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231,1  F252  v,  26      66-01*326 
Fathers  of  the  Church, 


?q,  ,     1?w    v    26         66-011-326 
Fr/ciiers  of  the  Chui'ch, 


WH  a 


A  NEW  TRANSLATION 
VOLUME  26 


A  NEW  TRANSLATION 


Founded  by 
LUDWIG  SCHOPP 


EDITORIAL  BOARD 
ROY  JOSEPH  DEFERRARI 

The  Catholic  University  of  America 
Editorial  Director 


RUDOLPH  ARBESMANN,  O.S.A. 
Fordham   University 

STEPHAN  KUTTNER 

The  Catholic  University  of  America 

MARTIN. R.  P.  McGuiRE 

The  Catholic  University  of  America 

WILFRID  PARSONS,  S.J. 

The  Catholic  University  of  America 


BERNARD  M.  PEEBLES 

The  Catholic  University  of  America 

ROBERT  P.  RUSSELL,  O,S,A. 

Villanova  University 

ANSELM  STRITTMATTER,  O.S.B. 
St.  Anselrn's  Priory 

JAMES  EDWARD  TOBIN 
Queens  College 


Translated   by 
SISTER   MARY   MELCHIOR   BEYENKA,    O.R 


New  York 

FATHERS  OF  THE  CHURCH,  INC. 

1954 


NIHIL  OBSTAT: 

JOHN   M,   A.   FEARNS,   S.T.D. 
Censor  Librorum 


IMPRIMATUR: 

gg  FRANCIS    CARDINAL    SPELLMAN 

Archbishop   of  New    York 

November  13,  1954 


Copyright  1954  by 
FATHERS  OF  THE  CHURCH,  INC. 

475  Fifth  Avenue,  New  York  17,  N.  Y. 
All  rights  reserved 


Lithography   by  Bishop  Litho,  Inc. 
US.  A, 


INTRODUCTION 

JT.  AMBROSE  GOVERNED  the  Church  at  Milan  for 
twenty-three  years,  from  December  1,  373,  until  his 
death  on  April  4,  397.  Of  his  correspondence,  pre- 
served in  ninety-one  letters,  Letters  1-63  of  the  Benedictine 
edition  (reprinted  in  Migne,  PL  16.849-1286),  can  be  dated 
with  exact  or  approximate  certitude;  Letters  64-91,  howevver, 
are  impossible  to  date  from  either  external  or  internal  evi- 
dence. Even  within  the  chronological  limits  of  the  traditional 
dates, — the  years  379  to  396 — scholars  find  discrepancies, 
many  of  which  can  have  no  definite  solution.  For  the  dates  of 
the  letters  and  other  historical  events  touching  their  contents, 
J.  R.  Palanque,  'Essai  de  chronologic  Ambrosienne,3  Saint 
Ambroise  et  V empire  romain  '(Paris  1933)  480-556,  has 
been  followed  unless  otherwise  noted. 

Because  of  the  wide  variety  of  the  subject  matter  of  the 
letters  and  the  unsatisfactory  chronological  arrangement  of 
earlier  editions  and  translations,  the  present  volume  offers 
the  letters  in  a  new  order,  which  is  an  adaptation  of  the 
classification  employed  by  Palanque.1  The  letters  have  been 
grouped  according  to  the  classes  of  persons  addressed; 
namely:  (1)  emperors,  (2)  bishops,  (3)  priests,  (4)  his  sister, 
Marcellina,  and  (5)  laymen.  Seven  synodal  letters,  written 
to  emperors  or  bishops  in  the  name  of  Ambrose  and  other 

1  Palanque,  op.  cit.  466-479. 

£6043:26 


vi  SAINT  AMBROSE 

members  of  Church  councils,  are  placed  after  the  letters  to 
bishops.  Letters  to  entire  congregations  follow  the  letters  to 
individuals  within  each  section.  Each  group  of  letters  presents 
the  addressees  in  alphabetical  order. 

As  a  result  of  this  arrangement,  the  letters  on  related 
subjects  or  those  written  in  the  same  spirit  to  an  individual 
are  frequently  found  together.  They  range  from  affairs  of 
state,  problems  of  Church  government,  doctrinal  disputes, 
exegesis,  and  pastoral  and  legal  affairs,  to  the  exchange  of 
greetings  between  friends  in  many  stations  of  life,  letters  of 
consolation,  and  the  ordinary  letter  that  attempted  to  bring 
the  absent  together  in  a  world  where  travel  and  commu- 
nication were  extremely  difficult. 

The  letters  are  a  reflection  of  the  many-sided  role  of  St. 
Ambrose.  His  parents  were  Romans  who  were  residing  in 
Gaul  at  Trier  in  339  when  Ambrose  was  born.  His  father 
was  praetorian  prefect  of  the  Gauls  at  the  time.  Ambrose 
had  an  older  sister,  Marcellina,  who  became  a  nun  in  343, 
to  whom  he  wrote  three  letters  that  are  extant,  and  also 
an  older  brother,  Uranius  Satyrus,  whom  he  loved  dearly 
and  over  whose  early  death  in  375  he  grieved  deeply. 

Ambrose's  education  was  typical  of  his  day.  He  learned 
rhetoric,  mathematics,  philosophy,  and  science.  He  had  a 
wide  knowledge  of  Greek,  by  which  he  was  able  to  know  the 
works  of  the  Greek  Fathers  of  the  fourth  century,  to  study 
their  writings,  and  to  transmit  them  in  Latin  to  the  Western 
Church.  Since  he  was  desirous  of  following  a  legal  career, 
he  studied  jurisprudence,  and  this  knowledge,  too,  was  fre- 
quently used  later  in  the  service  of  the  Church. 

Although  Ambrose's  family  was  Catholic  and  had  a  martyr 
among  its  forebears,  Ambrose  was  not  baptized  in  his  youth. 
He  did,  however,  study  the  truths  of  the  Christian  faith 
under  the  priest  Simplicianus.  This  tutor  came  to  Milan 
after  Ambrose  was  made  bishop  and  he  there  continued  to 


INTRODUCTION  Vll 

instruct  his  former  pupil,  who,  as  Ambrose  himself  remarks, 
'had  to  instruct  before  he  had  even  learned.'2  Eventually, 
Sirnplicianus  succeeded  Ambrose  as  Bishop  of  Milan  in  397. 

Ambrose's  legal  career  began  about  the  year  365  at  Sir- 
mium,  where  he  practiced  law  in  the  praetorian  prefect's 
court.  About  370  he  became  provincial  governor  of  Aernelia- 
Liguria,  with  Milan  as  his  place  of  residence.  There  in 
November,  373,3  Ambrose  was  summoned  to  keep  order  at 
the  election  of  a  successor  to  Auxentius  in  the  see  of  Milan 
upon  the  death  of  the  Arian  bishop.  A  child's  cry,  'Ambrose 
Bishop !'  brought  to  a  unanimous  decision  the  mixed  throngs 
of  Arians  and  Catholics  in  the  cathedral  and,  despite  the 
protests  of  Ambrose,  who  was  only  a  catechumen  in  the 
Church,  he  was  chosen  by  the  people ;  the  choice  was  seconded 
by  the  clergy,  and  it  was  approved  by  Emperor  Valentinian 
I.  Ambrose  was  duly  consecrated  bishop,  after  receiving  the 
minor  and  major  orders  of  the  priesthood,  on  December  1, 
373.4 

As  bishop  of  the  city  where  the  emperors  had  their  resi- 
dence, Ambrose  raised  Milan  to  recognition  as  the  most 
important  see  of  the  West.  He  occupied  a  place  of  pre- 
eminence in  the  Church  and  contributed  much  to  its  prestige 
in  the  early  years  of  peace  when  a  strong  pagan  party  still 
hoped  to  enjoy  the  protection  of  emperors  not  always 
Catholic.  His  religious  policy  was  threefold:  the  protection 
of  the  Church  against  the  violence  of  the  emperors;  the 
demand  that  the  civil  power  respect  the  moral  law;  and  the 
fostering  of  a  close  union  of  Church  and  state  by  which  the 
state  eventually  favored  only  the  Catholic  religion  and  dis- 
couraged all  others.  Thus,  without  any  political  ambition  on 

2  De  off.  1.1.4. 

3  B.  Altaner,  Patrologie   (3  ed.  Freiburg  1950)    25,  gives  the  date  as  374. 

4  For  several  points  of  interest  regarding  Ambrose's  election  and  con- 
secration, see  F.   H.  Dudden,    The  Life  and    Times  of  St.   Ambrose 

(Oxford  1935)    I  70-74. 


ylii  SAINT  AMBROSE 

his  part,  Ambrose  gained  a  stronger  power  than  the  emperor 
in  that  he  could  exercise  a  moral  check  on  him. 

Ambrose's  episcopacy  spanned  the  reigns  of  several  em- 
perors of  East  and  West.  Vaientinian  I  (d.  375)  had  sanc- 
tioned his  election  as  bishop.  Valentinian's  son,  Gratian, 
became  Emperor  of  the  West  in  joint  rule  with  his  half- 
brother,  Vaientinian  II,  in  375.  The  former  was  murdered 
by  agents  of  Maximus  the  Usurper  in  383,  the  latter  was^a 
victim  of  Arbogastes  and  Eugenius  the  Usurper  in  392. 
Ambrose  had  known  and  corresponded  with  both  emperors 
and  directed  their  policy  of  refusing  to  provide  imperial 
revenues  for  the  upkeep  of  pagan  temples.  At  the  death  of 
Gratian  he  went  to  Gaul  to  beg  the  body  from  Eugenius; 
he  arranged  the  details  of  Valentinian's  burial  and  delivered 
a  consolatory  funeral  sermon  for  him.5 

While  the  West  had  several  emperors  and  two  usurpers, 
the  East  enjoyed  the  long  reign  of  Theodosius  from  379 
until  395.  Ambrose  had  dealt  harshly  with  Theodosius  for 
the  affair  at  Callinicum  when  the  emperor  ordered  Christians 
to  rebuild  a  Jewish  synagogue  which  they  had  burned  during 
a  religious  riot.  The  imperial  order  was  rescinded.  After  the 
massacre  of  the  Thessalonians  by  the  command  of  Theodosius 
in  388,  Ambrose  exacted  public  penance  of  the  emperor  in 
the  Basilica  at  Milan.  He  preached  his  funeral  sermon,  how- 
ever, and  praised  his  victories  against  the  two  usurpers  of  the 
West  and  his  zeal  in  striving  to  unite  East  and  West  in  the 
bond  of  the  one  faith.  Two  years  later  Ambrose  died,  while 
acting  as  unofficial  guardian  of  the  youthful  Honorius,  Em- 
peror of  the  West. 

The  letters  which  Ambrose  wrote  to  Gratian,  to  Valen- 

5  Letter  4,  which  has  not  hitherto  been  considered  among  the  con- 
solatory works  of  Ambrose,  was  written  to  Theodosius  from  whom 
Ambrose  was  awaiting  instructions  for  the  burial  of  Vaientinian. 
Sections  1-3  are  a  'monody'  wherein  Ambrose  expresses  his  great  grief 
at  the  death  of  Vaientinian. 


INTRODUCTION  IX 

tinian,  and  to  Theodosius,  and  the  synodal  letters  to  the 
three  conjointly,  have  the  sustained  dignity  which  charac- 
terized his  style  when  addressing  the  highest  ranking  civil 
rulers  of  his  day.  But  with  all  his  deference  to  authority  he 
pursued  a  relentless  logic  in  championing  the  rights  of  God 
and  the  Church,  using  Scripture  to  illustrate  the  truth  of 
God's  sovereignty  in  matters  human  and  divine. 

Ambrose  addressed  more  letters  to  bishops  than  to  any 
other  class  of  persons,  and  understandably  so.  Throughout 
all  of  Northern  Italy,  Ambrose  acted  as  metropolitan,  but  the 
limits  of  his  episcopal  see  never  corresponded  to  those  of  his 
activity.  He  founded  several  bishoprics;  he  intervened  in  the 
election  of  a  successor  to  Limenius  at  Vercelli,  installing 
Honorattis;  he  instructed  the  Church  at  Aemelia  regarding 
the  date  of  Easter,  having  been  requested  by  Eusebius  of 
Bologna  to  do  so.  The  provinces  of  Flaminia  and  Venetia 
looked  to  Milan  rather  than  to  their  see  cities;  Ambrose  was 
a  sort  of  super-metropolitan  of  Italo-Illyrian  bishoprics.6 

In  addition,  he  corresponded  with  the  Bishops  of  Rome, 
Naples,  Gaul,  and  Alexandria — all  outside  his  province — 
and  with  newly  elected  Bishops  of  Thessalonica,  Como,  Imola, 
and  Claterna,  Several  of  those  whom  he  had  consecrated  he 
continued  to  favor  with  his  correspondence.  The  collection 
of  letters  contains  six  to  Sabinus  of  Piacenza,  whom  Ambrose 
begged  to  criticize  his  writings,  and  for  whom  he  wrote 
letters  that  embody  commentaries  of  several  passages  of  Scrip- 
ture. Three  letters  to  bishops  concern  legal  affairs;  several 
are  mere  pleasant  exchanges  of  greeting. 

Individual  priests  to  whom  Ambrose  wrote  are  Horon- 
tianus,  addressed  in  eight  letters,  and  Simplicianus,  addressed 
in  four.  The  former  appears  not  to  have  hesitated  to  call  on 

6  See,  in  this  connection,  J.  R.  Palanque  and  others,  The  Church  in 
the  Christian  Roman  Empire,  trans.  £.  Messenger  (London  1952)  II 
650-655. 


X  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Ambrose  for  assistance  In  Interpreting  any  Scriptural  passage 
whose  meaning  was  doubtful  to  him.  In  his  replies  Ambrose 
is  generous,  allowing  his  letters  and  those  of  Horontianus  to 
form,  as  he  says,  'a  sort  of  chain3  (53).  Frequently,  he 
developed  the  mystical  and  allegorical  sense  of  Scripture  with 
great  originality  and  depth.7 

The  letters  to  these  priests  have  a  special  interest  in  that  the 
recipients  were  residents  of  Milan  with  whom  the  contents 
might  have  been  discussed  in  person  without  recourse  to 
writing.  Undoubtedly,  the  letter  form  helped  Ambrose  to 
clarify  his  thought.  A  letter  to  certain  members  of  the  clergy 
who  were  discontented  in  the  priesthood  formulates  in  a 
winning  manner  their  spiritual  father's  advice  and  encour- 
agement. A  lengthy  letter  to  the  Church  at  Vercelli  is  a 
veritable  treatise  on  the  duties  of  the  clergy. 

Two  of  the  letters  to  Marcellina  contain  Ambrose's  first- 
hand account  of  events  of  historical  importance :  his  struggle 
with  the  Arian  Empress  Justina  and  her  son  Valentinian  II 
in  386,  and  his  conduct  with  Theodosius  after  the  affair  of 
Callinicum  in  388,  The  third  letter  to  his  sister  tells  of  his 
finding  the  bodies  of  the  martyrs,  Gervase  and  Protase,  whose 
relics  are  now  honored  with  those  of  Ambrose  in  the  basilica 
at  Milan. 

Laymen  to  whom  Ambrose  wrote  had  In  some  instances 
requested  instruction  on  Scripture,  as  a  certain  Clementianus 
did  who  asked  the  meaning  of  St.  Paul's  words:  'The  law 
has  been  our  tutor  unto  Christ,  that  we  might  be  justified 
by  faith.'8  Others  appealed  for  help  In  a  family  or  legal 
difficulty,  as  did  Paternus  (86),  who  wished  his  son  to  marry 
the  latter's  niece,  and  Studius  (90),  who  wanted  to  know 
whether  the  Church  allowed  judges  who  had  inflicted  sen- 
tences of  capital  punishment  to  receive  the  sacraments. 

7  See,  for  example,  Letter  46. 

8  Gal.  3.24. 


INTRODUCTION  XI 

Several  letters  are  mere  exchanges  of  greeting  when  a 
messenger  travels  from  Milan.  A  certain  Irenaeus,  a  resident 
of  Milan,  received  twelve  letters  from  Ambrose,  many  of 
which  are  comparable  to  those  addressed  to  Horontianus  on 
exegetical  problems.  Several  contain  passages  of  great  depth, 
and  allow  us  to  see  the  workings  of  divine  grace  in  this 
spiritual  guide  of  souls.  Letters  of  consolation  were  addressed 
to  the  clergy  and  people  of  Thessalonica  on  the  death  of 
their  bishop,  Acholius,  and  to  a  certain  Faustinus  at  the 
death  of  his  sister.9 

The  letters  give  us  a  clear  view  of  those  qualities  which 
made  Ambrose  the  spiritul  leader  of  his  day.  He  was  eager 
to  propagate  the  faith,  to  defend  its  dogma,  and,  if  necessary, 
to  shed  his  blood  for  its  preservation.  He  held  firmly  to  his 
principles  in  dealing  with  the  emperors.  Yet,  when  the 
occasion  arose,  he  showed  great  magnanimity  in  forgiving 
his  enemies  and  in  heaping  benefits  upon  them.  His  care  for 
souls  was  not  limited  to  those  within  his  official  jurisdiction, 
but  the  good  of  the  Church  drew  him  into  its  concerns 
elsewhere  and  prompted  him  to  take  a  leading  part  in  Church 
councils  at  Aquileia,  Rome,  and  Capua.  His  letters  reveal 
his  learning,  his  wisdom,  his  holiness,  and  his  freedom  from 
the  least  taint  of  worldliness.  Clergy  and  laity  alike  consulted 
him.  Men  found  in  him  the  piety,  charity,  mercy,  modesty, 
justice,  and  firmness  that  won  their  esteem.  Ambrose  lives  as 
we  read  his  letters  almost  1,600  years  after  they  were  first 
penned. 

There  are  details  revealed  by  the  correspondence  of  Am- 
brose which  add  to  our  knowledge  of  ancient  epistolography. 
The  salutations  are  frequently  very  simple,  for  example, 
'Ambrose  to  Titianus,3  with  an  occasional  addition  of  'greet- 
ings.5 Then  there  are  the  elaborate  salutations  to  the  emperors 

9  For  a  study  of  these  consolatory  letters,  see  C.  Favez,  La  consolation 
latine  chretienne   (Paris  1937)    20-22. 


SAINT  AMBROSE 


(8),  and  the  tenderest  of  greetings  to  his  sister,  'dearer 
than  life  and  eyes'  (61).  Many  letters  begin  with  a  restate- 
ment of  the  difficulty  proposed  to  him—  most  welcome  to  the 
reader  centuries  removed. 

His  biographer  Paulinus10  testifies  to  Ambrose's  habit  of 
writing  with  his  own  hand,  as  Ambrose  himself  mentions 
he  did  (24),  particulary  at  night.  He  praises  Gratian  (1) 
for  the  letter  he  had  penned  with  care  to  Ambrose.  Ambrose 
wrote  with  his  own  hand  to  Theodosius  (7)  after  the  affair 
at  Callinicum,  so  that  the  emperor  alone  might  know  and 
read  his  words  of  rebuke.  Several  times  Ambrose  speaks  of 
letter  writing  as  a  bond  between  those  who  are  apart,  and, 
overburdened  as  he  was  with  ministering  to  the  weaknesses  of 
men,11  he  seems  to  be  reaching  out  of  his  loneliness  toward 
companion  souls. 

That  Ambrose  collected  some  of  his  letters  in  his  lifetime 
is  evident  from  his  words  to  Sabinus:  'These  remarks  which 
are  a  prelude  to  other  discussions  I  shall  put  in  the  collection 
of  our  letters,  if  you  are  willing,  and  give  them  a  number' 
(23).  He  was  conscious  of  his  style,  as  he  speaks  to  the 
same  Sabinus  of  'prating  like  an  old  man  .  .  .  employing  an 
ordinary  and  friendly  style/  and  'savoring  of  older  writers/ 

Whatever  the  content  of  Ambrose's  letters  to  bishops, 
priests,  and  laymen,  he  invariably  expresses  his  love  for  his 
correspondents  in  the  beautiful  refrain:  'Farewell,  and  love 
us,  because  we  love  you.'  The  letters  to  emperors,  however, 
he  often  concludes  with  great  formality  and  by  imparting  a 
blessing.  On  several  occasions,  when  he  has  administered  a 
rebuke,  there  is  no  formal  conclusion.  Thus,  the  final  argument 
lingers  in  the  reader's  consciousness. 

The  years  385  to  387  were  those  in  which  Augustine  knew 

10  Vit.  9.38,  trans.  John  A.  Lacy,  in  this  series,  Volume  15    (New  York 
1952)  . 

11  Augustine,  Co??/.  6.33. 


INTRODUCTION  Xlll 

Ambrose  as  Bishop  of  Milan.  During  that  time  Ambrose 
addressed  at  least  two  letters  to  emperors,  four  to  bishops, 
seven  to  priests,  eight  to  laymen.  These  twenty  letters  are  a 
proportionately  large  part  of  his  correspondence.  Unfulfilled 
is  our  longing  for  even  one  letter  to  Augustine  at  this  period 
or  in  the  years  to  come  !12 

The  present  translation  is  based  on  the  Benedictine  text, 
reprinted  in  Migne,  and  J.  Wytzes'  critical  text  for  Letters 
7,  8,  and  11  in  Der  Streit  urn  den  Altar  der  Viktoria 
(Amsterdam  1936).  Correspondence  with  Rev.  Otto  J. 
Faller,  S.  J.,  of  Munich,  Germany,  discouraged  our  waiting 
for  the  critical  edition  of  the  Letters  which  he  is  preparing 
for  the  Corpus  Scriptorum  Ecclesiasticorum  Latinorum. 

Eleven  of  the  letters,  considered  by  the  editors  as  cmost 
interesting  and  important,'  were  translated  by  H.  de  Rome- 
stin  in  the  Nicene  and  Post-Nicene  Fathers  10  (New  York 
1896).  H.  Walford  revised  a  translation  by  an  earlier 
unnamed  translator  of  all  the  letters  (except  32  and  33)  in 
the  Library  of  the  Fathers  (Oxford  1881).  This  last-named 
work  is  the  only  translation  of  the  entire  correspondence  of 
Ambrose  found  in  any  language.  Rev.  W.  R.  Waghorn's 
unpublished  master's  thesis,  Saint  Ambrose:  Letters  to 
Sabinus  (Washington  1952),  was  also  consulted. 

Biblical  quotations  and  references  abound  in  the  letters  of 
St.  Ambrose.  Although  at  times  the  language  is  that  of  the 
Vulgate,  many  quotations  are  given  in  the  language  of  the 
Old  Latin  Bible,  some  are  from  the  Septuagint,  and  others 
have  no  counterpart  in  the  versions  which  are  at  hand.  Under 
these  circumstances  it  has  been  necessary  frequently  to  adapt 
the  translation  of  Biblical  passages  to  the  text  of  Ambrose. 
Where  possible,  use  was  made  of  the  New  American  Catholic 
Edition  of  The  Holy  Bible  (New  York  1950),  wherein  the 

12  Evidence  of  their  correspondence  before  Augustine's  baptism  is  found 
in  Conf.  9.5.13. 


Xiv  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Old  Testament  is  based  on  the  Douay  Version,  with  Psalms 
from  the  New  Latin  Version  authorized  by  Pope  Pius  XII, 
and  the  New  Testament  is  based  on  the  Confraternity 
Edition.  For  the  Book  of  Genesis  the  translation  used  was 
that  of  the  Catholic  Biblical  Association  of  America  for  the 
Confraternity  of  Christian  Doctrine  (Paterson,  N.  J.  1948). 


SELECT  BIBLIOGRAPHY 


Editions  and  Translations: 

Frisch,  J.  clu,  et  Nourry,  N.  le  (Maurists)  ,  Sancti  Ambrosii  Media- 
lanensis  Episcopi  Opera,  2  vols.  (Paris  1686-1690) . 

Migne,  J.-P.,  Patrologiae  Latinae  Cursus  Completus  (3rd  reprint  of 
the  Benedictine  edition) ,  (Paris  1845)  16.  849-1286. 

Romestin,  H,  de,  in  Nicene  and  Post-Nicene  Fathers,  ser.  2  (New 
York  1896) ,  Vol.  10. 

Waghorn,  W.  R.,  Saint  Ambrose:  Letters  to  Sabinus,  unpublished 
master's  thesis,  The  Catholic  University  of  America  (Wash- 
ington 1952) . 

Walford,  H.,  The  Letters  of  St.  Ambrose,  Bishop  of  Milan  (Oxford 
1881) . 


Secondary   Works: 

BrogHe,  Due  de,  Saint  Ambrose,  trans.  Margaret  Maitland   (London 

1899) . 
Dudden,  F.  Homes,  The  Life  and  Times  of  St.  Ambrose  f  %  vols. 

(Oxford   1935). 
Labriolle,  Pierre  de,  The  Life  and  Times  of  St.  Ambrose,  trans. 

Herbert  Wilson    (St.  Louis  1928). 
McGuire,  Martin  R.  P.,  'A  New  Study  on  the  Political  Rdle  of  St. 

Ambrose,'  Catholic  Historical  Review  22    (1936-1937)    304-318. 
Nagl,  Maria  Assunta,  Der  Heilige  Ambrosius    (Munster  1951) . 
Palanque,  Jean  Remy,  Saint  Arnbroise  et  I'empire  rornam    (Paris 

1933).  k 

Paulinus,   Life   of   St.  Ambrose,    trans.    John   A.    Lacy,    in    Early 

Christian  Biographies,  Fathers  of  the  Church   15    (New  York 
1952). 


CONTENTS 


Letters  to  Emperors  Page 

1  (1)  *  To  Gratian 3 

2  (40)  To  Theodosius 6 

3  (51)  To  Theodosius 20 

4  (55)  To  Theodosius 26 

5  (61)  To  Theodosius 28 

6  (62)  To  Theodosius ' 30 

7  (17)  To  Valentinian 31 

8  (18)  To  Valentinian 37 

9  (21)  To  Valentinian 52 

10  (24)  To  Valentinian 57 

11  (57)  To  Eugenius   the   Usurper 62 


Letters  to  Bishops 

12  (Iff)   To  Anysius 67 

13  (91)   To  Candidianus 70 

14  (50)    To  Chromatius 70 

*Indicates  Benedictine  enumeration 

XV 


Letters  to  Bishops  Page 

15  (2)  To  Constantius 76 

16  (72)  To  Constantius 90 

17  (87)  To  Fegadius    and    Delphinus 101 

18  (3)  To  Felix .102 

19  (4)  To  Felix 102 

20  (7)  To  Justus 105 

21  (8)  To  Justus 115 

22  (82)  To  Marcellus 120 

23  (48)  To  Sabinus 124 

24  (47)  To  Sabinus 127 

25  (45)  To  Sabinus 129 

26  (49)  To  Sabinus 134 

27  (46)  To  Sabinus 136 

28  (58)  To  Sabinus 144 

29  (59)  To  Severus 149 

30  (85)  To  Siricius 151 

31  (86)  To  Siricius 152 

32  (5)  To  Syagrius       152 

33  (6)  To  Syagrius       163 

34  (56)  To  Theophilus      .  • 172 

35  (19)  To  Vigilius 174 

36  (23)  To  the  Bishops  of  Aemelia 189 

37  (15)  To  the  Bishops  of  Thessalonica 200 


Synodal  Letters 

38  (9)    To  the  Bishops  of  Gaul 207 

39  (10)    To  Gratian,  Valentinian,  and  Theodosius   .     .     208 

40  (11)    To  Gratian,  Valentinian,  and  Theodosius   .     . 


xvi 


Synodal  Letters  Page 

41  (12)  To  Gratian,  Valentinian,  and  Theodosius  .    .  216 

42  (13)  To  Theodosius 219 

43  (;/)  To  Theodosius 223 

44  (42)  To  Siricius,  Bishop  of  Rome 225 


Letters  to  Priests  Page 

45  (70)   To  Horontianus 231 

46  (71)   To  Horontianus 241 

47  (77)    To  Horontianus 245 

48  (78)   To  Horontianus 251 

49  (43)   To  Horontianus !    ...  254 

50  (44)   To  Horontianus 264 

51  (34)   To  Horontianus 272 

52  (35)   To  Horontianus 277 

53  (36)   To  Horontianus 283 

54  (37)   To  Simplicianus 286 

55  (38)   To  Simplicianus 303 

56  (65)   To  Simplicianus 308 

57  (67)   To  Simplicianus 311 

58  (81)   To  the  Clergy  of  Milan 317 

59  (63)   To  the  Church  at  Vercelli 321 


Letters  to  His  Sister 

60  (20)   To  Marcellina 365 

61  (22)   To  Marcellina 376 

62  (41)   To  Marcellina 385 


xvii 


Letters  to  Laymen 

63  (89)    To  Alypius 399 

64  (90)    To  Antonius 399 

65  (88)    To  Atticus 400 

66  (79)    To  Bellicius 40! 

67  (80)    To  Bellicius 402 

68  (74)    To  Clementianus .405 

69  (75)    To  Clementianus 410 

70  (84)    To  Cynegius 413 

71  (54)    To  Eusebius 413 

72  (55)    To  Eusebius 414 

73  (39)    To  Faustinus 416 

74  (31)    To  Irenaeus 420 

75  (32)    To  Irenaeus 425 

76  (33)    To  Irenaeus 428 

77  (64)    To  Irenaeus 432 

78  (69)    To  Irenaeus 435 

79  (29)    To  Irenaeus 437 

80  (30)    To  Irenaeus 448 

81  (28)    To  Irenaeus 454 

82  (27)    To  Irenaeus 458 

83  (73)    To  Irenaeus 464 

84  (26)   To  Irenaeus 468 

85  (76)    To  Irenaeus 475 

86  (60)    To  Paternus 481 

87  (66)    To  Romulus 484 

88  (68)    To  Romulus .  488 

89  (83)   To  Sisinnius 489 

90  (25)    To  Studius 492 

91  (52)    To  Titianus 494 


XVlll 


LETTERS 


Translated  by 
SISTER  MARY  MELCHIOR  BEYENKA,  O.P,  PH.D. 

Rosary  College 
River  Forest,  Illinois 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS 


/.   To  the   most   blessed  Emperor   Gratian,   most   Christian 
prince,  Ambrose,   bishop   (March,   380} 

DO  NOT  LACK  affection,  most  Christian  of  princes:  I 
have  nothing  more  true  and  glorious  to  say  than 
this.  I  am  not  lacking  in  affection,  I  say,  but  a 
sense  of  awe  has  kept  my  affection  from  meeting  your 
Clemency.  If  I  did  not  go  on  foot  to  meet  you  as  you 
returned,  I  did  meet  you  in  spirit,  I  met  you  with  prayer,  in 
which  lies  the  most  important  duty  of  a  bishop.  I  met  you, 
I  say?  When  I  was  not  with  you,  did  I  not  follow  with  all  my 
love  you  to  whom  I  clung  with  mind  and  heart?  Surely,  the 
presence  of  minds  is  more  important.  I  read  of  your  journey 
from  day  to  day;  I  put  myself  in  your  camp  day  and  night 
by  my  concern  for  you  and  by  my  thought.  I  stretched  out 
for  you  a  coverlet  of  prayers;  if  I  was  unable  to  "give  you 
the  attention  which  you  deserved,  yet  was  I  unremitting  in 
my  affection. 

In  fact,  when  I  showed  myself  solicitous  for  your  welfare, 
I  was  acting  in  my  own  interest.  Here  is  not  flattery,  which 
you  do  not  want  and  which  I  consider  unbefitting  my 


SAINT  AMBROSE 


office;  it  is  merely  the  good  grace  which  you  have  shown  me. 
God  who  is  our  judge,  He  whom  you  profess,  He  in  whom 
you  piously  believe,  understands  that  my  strength  is  refreshed 
by  your  faith,  your  salvation,  your  glory.  And  He  knows  that 
I  give  prayers  which  are  due  you  not  only  because  of  your 
public  office,  but  also  because  of  my  personal  love  for  you. 
For  you  have  given  back  to  me  the  peace  of  the  Church, 
you  have  closed  the  mouths  of  the  wicked — ah,  would  that 
you  had  closed  their  hearts,  also!  You  have  done  this  not 
less  by  your  faith  than  by  the  weight  of  your  power. 

What  shall  I  say  of  your  recent  letter?1  You  wrote  the 
entire  letter  with  your  own  hand,  so  that  the  very  marks  of 
punctuation  bespoke  your  faith  and  piety.  In  the  same  way 
with  his  own  hand  did  Abraham  of  old  slay  an  ox2  to  serve 
his  guests  at  dinner,  and  in  this  performance  of  his  duty  did 
not  ask  the  help  of  others.  As  a  humble  servant  he  ministered 
to  the  Lord  and  His  angels,  or  to  the  Lord  in  His  angels. 
O  Emperor,  you  honor  a  lowly  priest  with  royal  dignity,  but 
deference  is  shown  to 'the  Lord  when  a  servant  is  honored, 
for  God  Himself  has  said:  'What  you  did  to  one  of  the  least 
of  these,  you  did  unto  me.'3 

But  shall  I  praise  only  the  lofty  humility  in  you,  the 
emperor,  and  not  rather  the  faith  of  your  mind  fully 
conscious  of  your  deserts,  that  faith  taught  you  by  Him 
whom  you  do  not  deny?  Who  else  could  have  taught  you 
not  to  reproach  Him  for  being  of  the  created  nature  which 
you  see  in  yourself?  Nothing  could  be  said  more  character- 
istically, nothing  more  clearly.  For  to  say  that  the  creature  is 
Christ  is  to  put  forth  an  insult,  not  to  confess  reverence. 
Futhermore,  what  is  so  insulting  as  to  think  that  He  is  what 
we  are?  You  have  instructed  me,  then,  the  one  from  whom 


1  See  Gratian's  letter  to  Ambrose   (PL  16.875-876) . 

2  Cf.  Gen.  18.7. 

3  Matt.  25.40. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  5 

you  said  that  you  wanted  to  learn.  I  have  never  read  or 
heard  so  good  an  interpretation  as  yours. 

Moreover,  how  pious,  how  admirable  is  the  fact  that  you 
do  not  fear  jealousy  in  God!  From  the  Father  you  expect 
remuneration  for  your  love  of  the  Son,  and  by  praising  the 
Son  you  say  that  you  cannot  add  anything  to  His  glory,  but 
you  wish  to  commend  yourself  to  the  Father  by  praising  His 
Son.  This  He  alone  taught  you  who  said:  'He  who  loves  me 
will  be  loved  by  my  Father.'4 

You  have  remarked  in  addition  that,  being  weak  and  frail, 
you  cannot  so  praise  Him  as  to  exalt  the  Godhead  by  your 
words.  But  you  will  preach  Him  according  to  your  ability,  not 
according  to  what  the  Godhead  warrants.  This  weakness  is 
more  powerful  in  one  who  is  in  Christ,  as  the  Apostle  says: 
'When  I  am  weak,  then  am  I  strong.'5  Humility  like  this  does 
away  with  frailty. 

To  be  sure,  I  shall  come  as  you  bid  and  I  shall  hasten  to 
hear  these  words  in  your  presence,  to  pick  up  these  words 
in  your  presence  when  they  fall  from  your  lips.  I  have  also 
sent  the  two  books6  you  requested  and,  since  they  are 
approved  by  your  Clemency,  I  shall  not  fear  any  damage  to 
them.  Meanwhile,  I  shall  ask  indulgence  from  the  Holy  Spirit 
for  writing  them,  since  I  know  who  will  be  the  judge  of  my 
speech. 

In  the  meantime,  your  love  and  faith  in  our  Lord  and 
Saviour,  drawn  from  the  Son  of  God,  grows  into  such 
overwhelming  conviction  that  you  also  believe  in  the  divinity 
of  the  Holy  Spirit,  and  you  do  not  reproach  Him  as  being  of 
the  created  nature  which  you  see  in  yourself,  nor  think  that 
God,  the  Father  of  our  Lord  Jesus  Christ,  is  jealous  of  His 

4  John  14.^4. 

5  2  Cor.  12.10. 

6  On  Faith   (De  fide,  PL  16.  527-698) . 


SAINT  AMBROSE 


Spirit.  That  which  lacks  all  association  with  created  nature 
is  divine. 

If  the  Lord  grants  His  favor,  I  shall  comply  with  the  will 
of  your  Clemency;  as  you  have  received  His  grace,  may  you 
realize  that  one  so  pre-eminent  in  the  glory  of  God  has  a 
right  to  our  veneration  in  His  own  name. 

May  almighty  God,  the  Father  of  our  Lord  Jesus  Christ, 
deign  to  protect  you,  that  you  may  be  blessed  and  flourish 
for  many  years,  and  may  He  deign  to  confirm  your  reign 
most  gloriously  in  peace,  O  lord,  august  Emperor,  elected  by 
divine  choice,  most  glorious  of  princes. 

2.  To  the  most  clement  prince  and  blessed  Emperor  Theo- 
dosius  Augustus,  Ambrose,  bishop  (December,  388) 

I  am  continually  beset  with  almost  unending  cares,  O 
most  blessed  Emperor,  but  never  have  I  felt  such  anxiety  as 
now,  for  I  see  that  I  must  be  careful  not  to  have  ascribed  to 
me  anything  resembling  an  act  of  sacrilege.  I  beg  you, 
therefore,  give  ear  with  patience  to  what  I  say.  For,  if  I  am 
not  worthy  of  a  hearing  from  you,  I  am  not  worthy  of 
offering  sacrifice  for  you,  I  to  whom  you  have  entrusted  the 
offering  of  your  vows  and  prayers.  Will  you  yourself  not  hear 
one  whom  you  wish  heard  when  he  prays  in  your  behalf? 
Will  you  not  hear  one  who  pleads  in  his  own  defense,  one 
whom  you  have  heard  plead  for  others?  And  do  you  not 
fear  for  your  own  decision  that,  if  you  think  him  unworthy 
to  be  heard  by  you,  you  will  make  him  unworthy  of  being 
heard  for  you? 

It  is  not  fitting  for  an  emperor  to  refuse  freedom  of  speech, 
or  for  a  bishop  not  to  say  what  he  thinks.  There  is  no 
quality  in  you  emperors  so  popular  and  so  lovable  as  the 
cherishing  of  liberty  even  in  those  whom  you  have  subdued 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  7 

on  the  battlefield.  In  fact,  it  spells  the  difference  between 
good  and  bad  emperors  that  the  good  love  liberty;  the  bad, 
slavery.  And  there  is  nothing  in  a  bishop  so  fraught  with 
danger  before  God,  so  base  before  men,  as  not  to  declare 
freely  what  he  thinks.  Indeed,  it  is  written:  'And  I  spoke 
of  thy  precepts  in  the  presence  of  kings  and  I  was  not 
ashamed,31  and  elsewhere:  'Son  of  man,  I  have  made  thee  a 
watchman  to  the  house  of  Israel,'  in  order,  it  is  said,  'that  if 
the  just  man  shall  turn  away  from  his  justice  and  shall 
commit  iniquity,  because  thou  hast  not  given  him  warning,' 
that  is,  not  told  him  what  to  guard  against,  'his  righteousness 
shall  not  be  remembered,  and  I  will  require  his  blood  at  thy 
hand.  But  if  thou  warn  the  righteous  that  he  sin  not,  and  he 
doth  not  sin,  the  righteous  shall  surely  live  because  thou 
hast  warned  him,  and  thou  wilt  deliver  thy  soul.'2 

I  would  rather,  O  Emperor,  have  partnership  with  you  in 
good  deeds  than  in  evil.  Therefore,  the  bishop's  silence 
should  be  disagreeable  to  your  Clemency;  his  freedom, 
agreeable.  You  are  involved  in  the  peril  of  my  silence,  but 
you  are  helped  by  the  boon  of  my  freedom.  I  am  not,  then, 
intruding  in  bothersome  fashion  where  I  have  no  obligation; 
I  am  not  interfering  in  the  affairs  of  others;  I  am  complying 
with  my  duty;  I  am  obeying  the  commands  of  our  God. 
This  I  do,  first  of  all,  out  of  love  for  you,  in  gratitude  to  you, 
from  a  desire  to  preserve  your  well-being.  If  I  am  not  believed 
or  am  forbidden  a  hearing,  I  speak,  nonetheless,  for  fear  of 
offending  God.  If  my  personal  peril  would  set  you  free,  I 
should  offer  myself  patiently,  though  not  willingly,  for  you, 
for  I  would  rather  you  were  acceptable  to  God  and  glorious 
without  peril  to  me.  But,  if  the  guilt  of  silence  and  untruth- 
fulness  should  weigh  heavily  upon  me  and  set  you  free,  I  had 
rather  that  you  think  me  too  bothersome  than  useless  and 

1  Ps.  118.46. 

2  Ezech.  3.17-21. 


SAINT  AMBROSE 


dishonest.  Indeed,  it  is  written  in  the  words  of^  the  holy 
Apostle  Paul,  whose  teaching  you  cannot  disprove:  'Be  urgent 
in  season,  out  of  season;  reprove,  entreat,  rebuke  with  all 
patience  and  teaching.'3 

We  have  one  whom  it  is  more  perilous  to  displease, 
especially  since  even  emperors  are  not  displeased  when  each 
man  performs  his  task,  and  you  patiently  listen  to  each  as  he 
makes  suggestions  in  his  own  sphere;  in  fact,  you  chide  him  if 
he  does  not  act  in  accordance  with  his  rank  in  service,  Can 
this  seem  offensive  in  bishops,  the  very  thing  you  are  willing 
to  accept  from  those  who  are  in  your  service,  since  we  are 
saying,  not  what  we  wish,  but  what  we  are  bidden  to  say? 
You  know  the  passage:  'When  you  will  stand  before  kings 
and  governors,  take  no  thought  of  what  you  are  to  speak; 
for  what  you  are  to  speak  will  be  given  you  in  that  hour. 
For  it  is  not  you  who  are  speaking,  but  the  Spirit  of  your 
Father  who  speaks  through  you.'4  If  I  were  speaking  in  a 
case  involving  the  commonwealth  (even  though  justice  must 
be  maintained  there),  I  would  not  feel  such  dread  if  I  were 
not  given  a  hearing.  But  in  a  case  involving  God,  whom  will 
you  listen  to  if  not  the  bishop,  who  sins  at  a  greater  peril? 
Who  will  dare  tell  you  the  truth  if  the  bishop  does  not? 

I  know  that  you  are  God-fearing,  merciful,  gentle,  and 
calm,  that  you  have  the  faith  and  fear  of  God  in  your  heart, 
but  often  some  things  escape  our  notice.  Some  persons  have 
zeal  for  God,  but  not  according  to  knowledge.5  Care  must 
be  taken,  I  think,  lest  this  condition  steal  upon  pious  souls. 
I  know  your  devotion  to  God,  your  leniency  toward  men.  I 
myself  am  indebted  to  you  for  many  kind  favors.  Therefore, 
I  fear  the  more,  I  am  the  more  anxious  lest  you  condemn  me 
later  in  your  judgment  for  the  fault  you  did  not  avoid, 


3  2  Tim.  4.2. 

4  Matt.    10,19,20. 

5  Of.  Rom.  10.2. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  y 

because  of  my  want  of  openness  and  my  flattery  of  you.  If  I 
saw  you  sinning  against  me,  I  would  not  have  to  be  silent, 
for  it  is  written:  'If  thy  brother  sin  against  thee,  first  take 
hold  of  him,  then  rebuke  him  before  two  or  three  witnesses. 
If  he  refuse  to  hear  thee,  tell  the  Church.'6  Shall  I,  then, 
keep  silence  in  the  cause  of  God?  Let  us  then  consider  wherein 
lies  my  fear. 

It  was  reported  by  a  count7  of  military  affairs  in  the  East 
that  a  synagogue  was  burned,8  and  this  at  the  instigation  of 
a  bishop.  You  gave  the  order  for  those  who  were  involved 
to  be  punished  and  the  synagogue  rebuilt  at  the  bishop's 
expense.  My  charge  is  not  that  you  should  have  waited  for 
the  bishop's  testimony,  for  bishops  quell  disturbances  and  are 
eager  for  peace  unless  they  deeply  feel  some  wrong  against 
God  or  insult  to  the  Church.  But  suppose  that  this  particular 
bishop  was  overimpetuous  in  burning  the  synagogue,  and  too 
timid  at  the  judgment  seat;  are  you  not  afraid,  Emperor, 
that  he  may  comply  with  your  pronouncement  and  do  you 
not  fear  he  may  become  an  apostate? 

Are  you  not  afraid  of  what  will  perhaps  ensue,  his  resisting 
the  count  in  so  many  words?  Then  he  [the  count]  will  have 
to  make  him  either  an  apostate  or  a  martyr,  either  alternative 
very  different  from  this  era  of  your  reign,  either  one  equivalent 
to  persecution  if  he  is  forced  to  apostatize  or  undergo 
martyrdom.  You  see  what  the  outcome  of  this  case  will  be. 
If  you  know  that  the  bishop  is  firm,  beware  of  making  him 
a  martyr  if  he  becomes  more  firm;  if  you  consider  him 
inconstant,  have  no  part  in  the  downfall  of  one  who  is  frail. 
He  incurs  a  heavier  obligation  who  compels  the  weak  to  fall. 

I  am  supposing  that  in  the  present  state  of  affairs  the 

6  Matt.  18.15-17. 

7  His  name  is  nowhere  given. 

8  At  Callinicum.  The  incident  is  well  summarized  by  Gregory  Figueroa, 
S.  A.,  The  Church  and  the  Synagogue  in  St.  Ambrose    (Washington 
1949)    xiii-xxiv. 


10  SAINT  AMBROSE 

bishop  will  admit  that  he  spread  the  fires,  gathered  the 
crowd,  and  brought  the  people  together  in  order  not  to  lose 
the  chance  of  martyrdom  and  to  present  a  strong  individual 
instead  of  many  weak  ones.  O  happy  falsehood,  which  wins 
acquittal  for  others  and  for  himself  grace!  This,  I  ask,  O 
Emperor,  that  you  rather  take  your  vengeance  on  me,  and, 
if  you  consider  this  a  crime,  attribute  it  to  me.  Why  pronounce 
judgment  on  those  who  are  far  away?  You  have  someone  at 
hand,  you  have  someone  who  admits  his  guilt.  I  declare  that 
I  set  fire  to  the  synagogue,  at  least  that  I  gave  the  orders,  so 
that  there  would  be  no  building  in  which  Christ  is  denied. 
If  the  objection  is  raised  that  I  did  not  burn  the  synagogue 
here,  I  answer  that  its  burning  was  begun  by  God's  judg- 
ment,9 and  my  work  was  at  an  end.  If  you  want  the  truth, 
I  was  really  remiss,  for  I  did  not  think  such  a  deed  was  to  be 
punished.  Why  should  I  have  done  what  was  to  be  without 
one  to  punish,  and  without  reward?  These  words  cause  me 
shame  but  they  bring  me  grace,  lest  I  offend  the  most  high 
God. 

Let  no  one  call  the  bishop  to  task  for  performing  his  duty : 
that  is  the  request  I  make  of  your  Clemency.  And  although 
I  have  not  read  that  the  edict  was  revoked,  let  us  consider  it 
revoked.  What  if  other  more  timid  persons  should,  through 
fear  of  death,  offer  to  repair  the  synagogue  at  their  expense, 
or  the  count,  finding  this  previously  determined,  should  order 
it  to  be  rebuilt  from  the  funds  of  Christians?  Will  you,  O 
Emperor,  have  the  count  an  apostate,  and  entrust  to  him 
the  insignia  of  victory,  or  give  the  labaruni,  which  is  sanctified 
by  Christ's  name,  to  one  who  will  rebuild  a  synagogue  which 
knows  not  Christ?  Order  the  labarum  carried  into  the 
synagogue  and  let  us  see  if  they  [the  Jews]  do  not  resist. 

Shall  a  place  be  provided  out  of  the  spoils  of  the  Church 
for  the  disbelief  of  the  Jews,  and  shall  this  patrimony,  given 

9  It  was  probably  struck  by  lightning. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  1 1 

to  Christians  by  the  favor  of  Christ,  be  transferred  to  the 
treasuries  of  unbelievers?  We  read  that,  of  old,  temples  were 
reared  for  idols  from  the  plunder  taken  from  the  Cimbrians 
and  from  the  spoils  of  the  enemy.  The  Jews  will  write  on  the 
front  of  their  synagogue  the  inscription:  "The  Temple  of 
Impiety,  erected  from  the  spoils  of  the  Christians.' 

Is  your  motive  a  point  of  discipline,  O  Emperor?  Which  is 
of  more  importance:  a  demonstration  of  discipline  or  the 
cause  of  religion?  The  maintenance  of  civil  law  should  be 
secondary  to  religion. 

Have  you  not  heard  how,  when  Julian  had  ordered  the 
Temple  of  Jerusalem  rebuilt,  those  who  were  clearing  the 
rubbish  were  burned  by  fire  from  heaven?  Are  you  not  afraid 
that  this  will  also  happen  now?  In  fact,  you  should  never 
have  given  an  order  such  as  Julian  would  have  given.10 

What  is  your  motive?  Is  it  because  a  public  building  of 
some  sort  has  been  burned,  or  because  it  chanced  to  be  the 
synagogue  there?  If  you  are  disturbed  by  the  burning  of  a 
very  unimportant  building  (for  what  could  there  be  in  so 
mean  a  town?),  do  you  remember,  O  Emperor,  how  many 
homes  of  prefects  at  Rome  have  been  burned  and  no  one  has 
exacted  punishment?  In  fact,  if  any  of  the  emperors  wanted 
to  punish  such  a  deed  more  severely,  he  only  aggravated  the 
cause  of  all  who  had  suffered  such  a  great  loss.  If  there  is 
going  to  be  any  justice  at  all,  which  is  more  fitting,  that  a 
fire  on  some  part  of  the  building  of  Callinicum  be  avenged, 
or  one  at  Rome?  Some  time,  ago  the  bishop's  residence  at 
Constantinople  was  burned,  and  your  Clemency's  son  pleaded 
with  his  father,  begging  you  not  to  punish  the  insult  done  to 
him,  the  emperor's  son,  in  the  burning  of  the  episcopal 
residence.  Do  you  not  think,  O  Emperor,  that  if  you  were  to 

10  For  an  account  of  Julian's  acts,  see  Jf.  R.  Palanque  and  others,  The 
Church  in  the  Christian  Roman  Empire,  trans.  E.  C.  Messenger  (Lon- 
don 1949)  I  234-239. 


1 2  SAINT  AMBROSE 

order  this  burning  to  be  punished,  he  would  again  plead  that 
it  be  not  so?  It  was  very  suitable  for  your  son  to  gain  that 
favor  from  his  father,  for  it  was  fitting  that  he  first  forgive 
what  was  done  to  him.  Besides,  there  was  a  good  division  of 
grace  there,  since  the  son  made  the  entreaty  regarding  his 
injury,  and  so  did  the  father  for  the  son's.  Here  is  nothing 
for  you  to  waive  in  your  son's  behalf;  be  careful,  then,  to 
derogate  nothing  from  God. 

There  is  really  no  adequate  cause  for  all  this  commotion, 
people  being  punished  so  severely  for  the  burning  of  a  build- 
ing, and  much  less  so,  since  a  synagogue  has  been  burned,  an 
abode  of  unbelief,  a  house  of  impiety,  a  shelter  of  madness 
under  the  damnation  of  God  Himself.  For  we  read  by  the 
mouth  of  Jeremias,  the  Lord  our  God  speaking;  'And  I  will 
do  to  this  house  in  which  my  name  is  called  upon,  and  which 
you  trust,  and  to  the  place  which  I  have  given  you  and  your 
father,  as  I  did  to  Silo.  And  I  will  cast  you  away  from  before 
my  face,  as  I  have  cast  away  all  your  brethren,  the  whole 
seed  of  Ephraim.  Therefore  do  not  thou  pray  for  this  people, 
nor  show  mercy  for  them  and  do  not  approach  me  for  them; 
for  I  will  not  hear  thee.  Seest  thou  not  what  they  do  in  the 
cities  of  Juda?ni  God  forbids  us  to  make  intercession  for 
those  that  you  think  should  be  vindicated. 

If  I  were  pleading  according  to  the  law  of  the  nations,  I 
would  mention  how  many  of  the  Church's  basilicas  the  Jews 
burned  in  the  time  of  Julian,  two  at  Damascus— one  of 
which  is  scarcely  yet  repaired,  and  that  at  the  expense  of  the 
Church,  not  of  the  synagogue — while  the  other  basilica  is 
still  a  rough  heap  of  unsightly  ruins.  Basilicas  were  burned  at 
Gaza,  Ascalon,  Beirut,  in  fact,  almost  all  over  that  region,  and 
no  one  demanded  punishment.  A  basilica  of  surpassing  beauty 
at  Alexandria  was  burned  by  heathens  and  Jews,  but  the 
Church  was  not  avenged,  and  shall  the  synagogue  be  avenged? 

11  Jer.  7.14-17. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  13 

Shall  the  burning  of  the  temple  of  the  Valentinians12  also 
be  avenged?  What  is  it  but  a  temple  where  the  heathens 
gather?  Although  the  heathens  worship  twelve  gods,  the 
Valentinians  worship  thirty-two  Aeons,  whom  they  call  gods. 
I  have  found  out  that  a  law  was  passed  and  orders  given  for 
the  punishment  of  some  monks  to  whom  the  Valentinians 
denied  the  right  of  way  as  they  sang  the  psalms  by  an  ancient 
custom  and  practice,  going  on  their  way  to  the  feast  of  the 
martyrs,  the  Machabees.13  In  anger  at  their  effrontery  they 
[the  monks]  burned  their  hurriedly  built  shrine  in  some  coun- 
try village. 

How  many  can  entertain  such  hope  when  they  remember 
that  in  the  time  of  Julian  a  man14  who  had  thrown  down  an 
altar  and  disturbed  the  sacrifice  was  sentenced  by  the  judge 
and  suffered  martyrdom?  The  judge  who  heard  the  case  was 
never  considered  other  than  a  persecutor.  No  one  ever  thought 
him  worth  meeting  or  saluting  with  a  kiss.  And  if  he  were  not 
dead,  I  would  be  afraid,  O  Emperor,  that  you  would  punish 
him,  although  he  did  not  escape  heaven's  vengeance,  for  he 
outlived  his  heir. 

But  it  is  said  that  a  trial  of  the  judge  was  demanded 
and  the  decision  handed  down  that  he  should  not  have 
reported  the  deed,  but  punished"  it;  and  money  chests  which 
had  been  taken  had  to  be  restored.  I  shall  omit  any  other 
details.  The  churches'  basilicas  were  burned  by  the  Jews  and 
nothing  was  restored,  nothing  was  demanded  in  return,  noth- 
ing was  required.  Moreover,  what  could  a  synagogue  in  a 
distant  town  contain,  when  everything  there  is  not  much,  is 
of  no  value,  is  of  no  account.  In  fine,  what  could  those 

12  Cf.  G.  Bardy,  'Valentin,'  DTC  15*  2497-2519. 

13  The  festival  honoring  the  Macchabees  seems  to  have  been  universally 
celebrated  in  the  Church  of  the  fourth  century  on  August  1. 

14  Mark  of  Arethusa  in  the  time  of  Constantius  had  demolished  a  pagan 
temple  and  was  tortured  under  Julian  for  refusing  to  rebuild  it.  Cf. 
Sozomen  5.10;  Theodoret  EccL  hist.  3.7. 


14  SAINT  AMBROSE 

scheming  Jews  have  lost  In  this  act  of  plunder?  These  are  but 
the  devices  of  Jews  wishing  to  bring  false  charges,  so  that  by 
reason  of  their  complaints  an  extraordinary  military  inquiry 
may  be  demanded  and  soldiers  sent  who  will  perhaps  say 
what  was  said  here  some  time  before  your  accession,  O 
Emperor:  'How  will  Christ  be  able  to  help  us  who  are  sent 
to  avenge  Jews?  They  lost  their  own  army,  they  wish  to 
destroy  ours.' 

Futhermore,  into  what  false  charges  will  they  not  break 
forth,  when  they  even  falsely  accused  Christ  with  their  false 
witnesses?  Into  what  false  charges  will  men  not  break  forth 
when  they  were  liars  even  in  matters  divine?  Whom  will  they 
not  name  as  the  instigators  of  the  sedition?  Whom  will  they 
not  attack,  even  though  they  know  them  not,  just  so  that 
they  may  see  countless  Christians  in  chains,  see  the  necks  of 
faithful  people  bowed  in  captivity,  that  the  servants  of  God 
may  go  into  dark  hiding  places,  be  struck  with  axes,  given  to 
the  flames,  and  delivered  to  the  mines,  so  that  their  sufferings 
may  not  pass  hurriedly? 

Will  you  grant  the  Jews  this  triumph  over  God's  Church? 
this  trophy  over  Christ's  people?  these  joys,  O  Emperor,  to 
unbelievers?  this  festival  to  the  synagogue?  this  grief  to  the 
Church?  The  Jewish  people  will  put  this  solemnity  among 
their  feast  days,  and  doubtless  they  will  rank  it  with  their 
triumphs  over  the  Amorites  and  the  Canaanites,  or  their 
deliverance  from  Pharao,  the  king  of  Egypt,  or  from  the  hand 
of  Nabuchodonosor,  the  king  of  Babylon.  They  will  have 
this  solemnity  marking  the  triumphs  they  have  wrought  over 
the  people  of  Christ. 

And  although  they  refuse  to  be  bound  by  the  laws  of 
Rome,  thinking  them  outrageous,  they  now  wish  to  be 
avenged,  so  to  speak,  by  Roman  laws.  Where  were  those  laws 
when  they  set  fire  to  the  domes  of  the  sacred  basilicas?  If 
Julian  did  not  avenge  the  Church,  because  he  was  an 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  15 

apostate,  will  you,  O  Emperor,  avenge  the  harm  done  the 
synagogue,  because  you  are  a  Christian? 

And  what  will  Christ  say  later  to  you?  Do  you  not  recall 
that'  He  sent  word  to  blessed  David  through  Nathan  the 
Prophet?15  CI  have  chosen  you,  the  youngest  of  your  brethren, 
and  have  made  you  an  emperor  from  a  private  individual.16 
The  fruits  of  your  seed  I  have  put  upon  the  imperial  throne. 
I  have  made  barbarian  nations17  subject  to  you;  I  have  given 
you  peace;  I  have  brought  your  captive  enemy18  into  power. 
You  had  no  grain  to  feed  your  army;  I  threw  open  the  gates 
to  you;  I  opened  the  granaries  to  you  by  the  hand  of  the 
enemies  themselves.  Your  enemy  prepared  provisions  for 
themselves  and  gave  them  to  you,  I  troubled  the  counsels  of 
your  enemy  so  that  he  laid  himself  bare.  I  so  fettered  the 
usurper19  of  the  Empire  and  bound  his  mind  that  while  he 
still  had  a  chance  to  flee,  as  though  afraid  that  one  of  his 
men  should  elude  you,  he  shut  himself  in  with  them  all.  His 
officer20  and  forces  on  the  other  element,21  whom  I  had 
routed  earlier,  so  that  they  would  not  join  battle  against  you, 
I  brought  together  again  to  complete  your  victory.  Your 
army  gathered  from  many  unruly  nations  I  bade  keep  faith 
and  peace  and  concord,  as  if  of  one  nation.  And  when  there 
was  great  danger  that  the  perfidious  plans  of  the  barbarians 
would  penetrate  the  Alps,  in  order  that  you  might  conquer 
and  suffer  no  loss,  I  brought  you  victory  within  the  very 
ramparts  of  the  Alps.22  I,  then,  caused  you  to  triumph  over 
your  enemy,  and  are  you  giving  my  enemies  a  triumph  over 
my  people?' 

15  Cf.  2  Kings  7.8-17. 

16  In  382. 

17  The  Goths. 

18  Athanaric. 

19  Maximus. 

20  Adragathius. 

21  The  sea. 

22  Cf.  Sozomen  4.46  and  Dudden,  op.  at.  354. 


16  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Was  not  Maxirnus  undone  because,  when  he  heard  that  the 
synagogue  at  Rome  had  been  burned,  before  the  set  time  for 
his  expedition,  he  sent  an  edict  to  Rome,  as  if  he  were  the 
champion  of  public  order?  On  this  account  the  Christian 
people  said:  'No  good  is  in  store  for  him !  The  king  has  turned 
Jew,  we  have  heard  he  is  a  defender  of  those  whom  Christ 
soon  made  trial  of,  He  who  died  for  sinners.'23  If  this  was 
said  of  his  mere  words,  what  will  be  said  of  your  actual 
punishment?  He  was  soon  conquered  by  the  Franks,  by  the 
Saxon  nation,  in  Sicily,  at  Siscia,  at  Pettau;  in  fact,  every- 
where. What  has  the  believer  in  common  with  this  unbeliever? 
Marks  of  his  baseness  should  die  with  the  base  one.  The  victor 
should  not  imitate,  but  condemn  his  injury  of  the  vanquished 
for  his  offenses. 

I  have  recounted  these  details  for  you,  not  through 
ingratitude,  but  I  have  enumerated  them  as  rightly  due  to 
you,  so  that  by  heeding  these  warnings  you,  who  have  been 
given  more,  will  love  the  more.  When  Simon  answered  in 
these  words,  the  Lord  Jesus  said:  'Thou  hast  judged  rightly/ 
and  turning  at  once  to  the  woman  anointing  His  feet,  setting 
forth  an  example  for  the  Church,  He  said  to  Simon: 
'Wherefore  I  say  to  thee,  her  sins,  many  as  they  are,  shall  be 
forgiven  her,  because  she  has  loved  much.  But  he  to  whom 
little  is  forgiven,  loves  little.'24  This  is  the  woman  who 
entered -the  house  of  the  Pharisee  and  cast  off  the  Jew,  but 
gained  Christ,  for  the  Church  shut  out  the  synagogue.  Why 
is  trial  again  being  made  within  the  household  of  Christ?  Is 
it  that  the  synagogue  may  shut  out  the  Church  from  the 
bosom  of  faith,  from  the  house  of  Christ? 

These- matters,  O  Emperor,  I  have  gathered  together  in 
this  address  out  of  love  and  attachment  to  you,  I  am  under 
obligation  for  your  kindnesses  at  my  requests  when  you 


23  Rom.  5.6. 

24  Luke  7,43,17. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  17 

released  many  from  exile,  from  prisons,  and  from  the  extreme 
penalty  of  death.  I  am  bound  to  prefer  hurting  your  feelings 
for  the  sake  of  your  welfare  ( for  no  one  has  greater  confidence 
than  one  who  loves  from  the  heart,  and  certainly  no  one 
should  harm  one  whose  interests  he  has  at  heart) ;  and  I 
should  not  fear  to  lose  in  one  moment  the  favor  which  other 
bishops  and  I  have  enjoyed  for  so  many  years.  Yet  it  is  not 
the  loss  of  that  favor  that  I  would-  avert,  but  the  peril  to 
salvation. 

How  important  it  is  for  you,  O  Emperor,  not  to  feel 
bound  to  investigate  or  punish  a  matter  which  no  one  up  to 
now  has  investigated  or  punished!  It  is  a  serious  matter  to 
jeopardize  your  faith  in  behalf  of  the  Jews.  When  Gideon 
had  slain  the  sacred  calf,  the  heathens  said:  cLet  the  gods 
themselves  avenge  the  injury  done  to  them.'25  Whose  task  is 
it  to  avenge  the  synagogue?  Christ  whom  they  slew,  whom 
they  denied?  Or  will  God  the  Father  avenge  those  who  did 
not  accept  the  Father,  since  they  did  not  accept  the  Son? 
Whose  task  is  it  to  avenge  the  heresy  of  the  Valentinians? 
How  can  your  Piety  avenge  them  when  it  has  given  orders 
for  them  to  be  denied  entrance  and  has  denied  them  the 
right  of  assembly?  If  I  give  you  the  example  of  Josias  as  a 
king  approved  by  God,  will  you  condemn  in  them  what  was 
approved  in  him?"6 

Yet,  if  you  have  little  faith  in  me,  bid  those  bishops 
assemble  whom  you  do  esteem.  Discuss  with  them,  O  Em- 
peror, what  ought  to  be  done  without  injury  to  the  faith.  If 
you  consult  your  officers  on  money  matters,  how  much  fairer 
is  it  to  consult  the  Lord's  priests  on  a  religious  matter! 

Let  your  Clemency  consider  how  many  persons  plot  and 
spy  on  the  Church.  If  they  find  a  slight  crack,  they  drive  in 
an  arrow.  I  speak  in  the  manner  of  men,  but  God  is  more 

25  Judges  5.32. 

26  Cf.  4  Kings  22.1,2, 


18  SAINT  AMBROSE 

feared  than  men,  for  He  is  rightly  preferred  even  to  emperors. 
If  someone  considers  it  proper  to  show  deference  to  a  friend, 
or  parents  or  relatives,  I  think  it  rightly  should  be  shown  to 
God  and  that  He  should  be  preferred  to  all  Consult  your 
best  interests,  O  Emperor,  or  allow  me  to  consult  mine. 

What  shall  be  my  excuse  later  if  it  is  found  out  that  by 
authority  emanating  from  here  some  Christians  were  slain  by 
the  sword  or  clubs  or  leaden  balls?  How  will  I  justify  such  a 
deed?  How  will  I  make  excuse  to  those  bishops  who  sorely 
lament  the  fact  that  priests  or  other  ministers  of  the  Church 
who  have  performed  their  office  for  thirty  years  and  more  are 
dragged  away  from  their  sacred  tasks  and  assigned  to  curial 
offices?  If  men  who  war  for  you  are  kept  for  a  set  time  of 
service,  how  much  more  ought  you  to  be  considerate  of  those 
who  war  for  God?  How,  I  say,  shall  I  justify  this  before 
bishops  who  complain  about  the  clergy  and  write  that  the 
churches  are  being  ruined  by  the  serious  attacks  being  made 
on  them? 

For  this  reason,  I  wanted  this  to  come  to  the  notice  of 
your  Clemency.  You  will,  when  it  pleases  you,  condescend  to 
consult  and  temper  your  wishes;  but  exclude  and  put  an  end 
to  that  which  troubles  me,  and  rightly  so.  Do  yourself  what 
you  ordered  to  be  done,  even  if  he  [the  count]  is  not  going 
to  do  it.  I  would  rather  that  you  be  merciful  than  that  he  fail 
to  do  what  he  was  ordered. 

In  return  for  those  whom  you  now  have,  you  ought  to 
cultivate  and  win  the  Lord's  mercy  for  the  Roman  Empire, 
for  you  have  more  for  them  than  you  hoped  for  yourself. 
Let  their  favor,  their  well-being,  appeal  to  you  in  these  words 
of  mine.  I  fear  that  you  will  entrust  your  cause  to  another's 
will.  You  still  have  everything  in  its  original  state.  In  this  I 
pledge  myself  to  our  God  for  you:  Have  no  scruple  over 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  19 

your  oath.  Can  that  displease  God  which  is  corrected  for 
His  honor?  Alter  nothing  in  that  letter,  whether  it  was  sent  or 
not.  Order  another  to  be  written,  which  will  be  filled  with 
faith,  with  piety.  You  can  still  correct  yourself;  I  cannot  hide 
the  truth. 

You  forgave  the  people  of  Antioch  the  injury  they  offered 
you;27  you  recalled  your  enemy's28  daughters  and  gave  them 
to  a  relative  to  rear,  and  from  your  own  treasury  you  sent 
your  enemy's  mother  a  pension.  This  great  faith  and  piety 
toward  God  will  be  blackened  by  the  present  deed.  I  beg 
you,  after  sparing  enemies  in  arms  and  saving  personal 
enemies,  do  not  presume  to  punish  Christians  with  such 
intensity. 

Now,  O  Emperor,  I  beg  you  not  to  hear  me  with  con- 
tempt, for  I  fear  for  you  and  for  myself,  as  says  the  holy 
man:  'Wherefore  was  I  born  to  see  the  ruin  of  my  people,'29 
that  I  should  commit  an  offense  against  God?  Indeed,  I  have 
done  what  I  could  do  honorably,  that  you  might  hear  me  in 
the  palace  rather  than  make  it  necessary  to  hear  me  in  the 
Church. 


27  The  insurrection  of  387  in  protest  against  additional  taxes  to  support 
a  celebration  honoring  Arcadius. 

28  It   is   doubtful   whether   Maximus   had   any  children   except  his  son 
Victor. 

29  1  Mach.  2.7. 


20  SAINT  AMBROSE 

5.  To  the  most  august  Emperor  Theodosius,  Ambrose,  bishop1 

Sweet  to  me  is  the  recollection  of  your  friendship  in  the  past, 
and  I  recall  the  favor  of  benefits  which  you  have  bestowed 
with  supreme  favor  upon  others  at  my  frequent  requests. 
Hence,  you  may  infer  that  I  could  not  have  avoided  meeting 
you  through  any  feeling  of  ingratitude,  for  I  had  always 
heretofore  ardently  desired  your  coming,  I  shall  briefly  set 
forth  the  reason  for  acting  as  I  did. 

I  saw  that  I  alone  of  your  court  had  been  deprived  of  the 
natural  right  of  a  hearing,  so  that  I  was  also  shorn  of  the 
privilege  of  speaking.  You  were  disturbed  several  times 
because  certain  decisions  in  your  consistory  came  to  my 
knowledge.  I,  therefore,  am  without  a  share  in  the  common 
privilege,  although  the  Lord  Jesus  says:  'Nothing  is  hidden 
that  will  not  be  made  manifest.'2  As  far  as  I  could,  then,  I 
reverently  complied  with  the  will  of  the  emperor,  and  took 
heed  that  you  yourself  should  have  no  cause  for  displeasure 
for  I  managed  to  have  none  of  the  imperial  decrees  brought 
to  my  knowledge.  And  if  I  am  ever  present,  either  I  shall 
not  hear  out  of  fear  of  all  giving  me  a  reputation  for 
conniving,  or  I  shall  hear  in  such  a  way  that,  though  my 
ears  are  open,  my  voice  is  stifled  so  that  I  cannot  utter  what 
I  have  heard,  lest  I  do  injury  to  those  who  have  incurred  the 
suspicion  of  treachery. 

What,  therefore,  could  I  do?  Not  hear?  -I  could  not  stop 
my  ears  with  the  wax  of  which  old  fables  [tell].  Should  I 
disclose  what  I  heard?  But  I  had  to  be  on  my  guard  in  what 

1  Written  from  Aquiieia,  to  Theodosius,  who  was  in  Milan  to  excite 
the  emperor  to  repentance  for  ordering  the  massacre  of  the  inhab- 
itants of  Thossalonica.  The  subsequent  details  are  related  in  Ambrose's 
Letter  62  to  Marcel lina.  Palanque  dates  this  letter  about  September 
8,  890.  McGuire,  following  tradition  and  the  findings  of  Seeck,  accepts 
the  date  as  c.  April,  390;  cf.  Catholic  Historical  Review  !>i>  0936-1957) 
315. 

2  Luke  8.17. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  21 

I  said  for  fear  of  your  orders,  lest  a  bloody  deed  be  committed. 
Should  I  keep  silence?  Then  would  my  conscience  be  bound, 
my  voice  snatched  from  me — most  wretched  of  all  conditions. 
And  where  would  be  the  significance  of  the  saying  that  if  a 
bishop  declare  not  to  the  wicked,  the  wicked  shall  die  in  his 
iniquity,  and  the  bishop  shall  be  guilty  of  punishment  because 
he  has  not  warned  the  wicked?3 

Understand  this,  august  Emperor !  I  cannot  deny  that  you 
are  zealous  for  the  faith;  I  do  not  disavow  that  you  have  a 
fear  of  God — but  you  have  a  natural  vehemence  which  you 
quickly  change  to  pity  when  one  endeavors  to  soothe  it. 
When  one  stirs  it  up,  you  so  excite  it  that  you  can  hardly 
check  it.  If  only  no  one  would  enkindle  it,  if  no  one  would 
arouse  it!  This  I  gladly  commend  to  you:  Restrain  yourself, 
and  conquer  by  love  of  duty  your  natural  impetuosity. 

This  vehemence  I  have  preferred  to  commend  privately  to 
your  own  considerations  rather  than  to  rouse  it  publicly 
perchance  by  any  action  of  mine.  I  preferred  to  fail  somewhat 
in  my  duty  rather  than  in  submission,  that  others  should 
look  for  priestly  authority  in  me  instead  of  your  failing  to 
find  reverence  in  me,  who  am  most  devoted.  The  result 
would  be  that,  though  you  restrained  your  vehemence,  your 
ability  to  get  counsel  might  be  unimpaired.  I  proffered  the 
excuse  of  bodily  illness,  truly  severe,  and  only  to  be  eased  by 
men  being  milder.  Yet  I  would  have  preferred  to  die  rather 
than  not  await  your  arrival  in  two  or  three  days.  But  that 
was  not  what  I  did. 

The  affair  which  took  place  in  the  city  of  Thessalonica 
and  with  no  precedent  within  memory,  that  which  I  could 
not  prevent  from  taking  place,  which  I  had  declared  would 
be  most  atrocious  when  I  entered  pleas  against  it  so  many 
times,  and  which  you  yourself,  by  revoking  it  too  late, 
manifestly  considered  to  have  been  very  serious,  this  when 

3  Cf.  Ezech.  3.19,20. 


22  SAINT  AMBROSE 

done  I  could  not  extenuate.  It  was  first  heard  of  when  the 
synod  had  met  on  the  arrival  of  Gallican  bishops.4  No  one 
failed  to  lament,  no  one  took  it  lightly.  Your  being  in  fellow- 
ship with  Ambrose  was  not  an  excuse  for  your  deed;  blame 
for  what  had  been  done  would  have  been  heaped  upon  me 
even  more  had  no  one  said  there  must  needs  be  a  reconcilation 
with  our  God. 

Are  you  ashamed.,  O  Emperor,  to  do  what  King  David 
the  Prophet  did,  the  forefather  of  the  family  of  Christ 
according  to  the  flesh?  He  was  told  that  a  rich  man  who 
had  many  flocks  had  seized  and  killed  a  poor  man's  one  ram 
on  the  arrival  of  a  guest,  and  recognizing  that  he  himself 
was  being  condemned  in  this  tale,  for  he  had  himself  done 
so,  he  said:  CI  have  sinned  against  the  Lord.'5  Do  not  be 
impatient,  O  Emperor,  if  it  is  said  to  you:  'You  have  done 
what  was  declared  to  King  David  by  the  prophet.'  For  if  you 
listen  carefully  to  this  and  say;  CI  have  sinned  against  the 
Lord/  if  you  repeat  the  words  of  the  royal  Prophet;  'Come, 
let  us  adore  and  fall  down  before  him,  and  weep  before  our 
Lord  who  made  us,JG  it  will  be  said  also  to  you:  'Since  you 
repent,  the  Lord  forgives  you  your  sin  and  you  shall  not  die/7 

Again,  when  David  had  ordered  the  people  to  be  num- 
bered, he  was  smitten  in  heart  and  said  to  the  Lord:  *I 
have  sinned  very  much  in  the  command  I  have  made,  and 
now,  O  Lord,  take  away  the  iniquity  of  thy  servant,  because 
I  have  sinned  exceedingly/  And  the  Prophet  Nathan  was 
sent  again  to  him  to  offer  him  the  choice  of  three  things,  that 
he  might  select  what  he  chose:  a  famine  in  the  land  for 
three  years,  flight  from  the  face  of  his  enemies  for  three 
months,  or  pestilence  in  the  land  for  three  days.  And  David 
answered:  cThese  three  things  are  a  great  strait  to  me,  yet  I 

4  It  is  not  known  to  what  council  Ambrose  refers, 

5  2  Kings  12,15. 

6  Ps.  94.6. 

7  2  Kings  12.13. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  23 

shall  fall  into  the  hand  of  the  Lord  since  his  mercies  are 
exceedingly  great,  and  I  shall  not  fall  into  the  hands  of  men.'8 
His  fault  was  that  he  desired  to  know  the  number  of  all  the 
people  who  were  with  him,  and  the  knowledge  of  this  he 
should  have  left  to  God  alone. 

And  it  is  said  that  when  the  pestilence  came  upon  the 
people  on  the  first  day  at  dinner  time,  when  David  saw  the 
angel  striking  the  people,  he  said:  CI  have  sinned,  I,  the 
shepherd,  have  done  evil  and  this  flock,  what  has  it  done? 
Let  your  hand  be  upon  me,  and  upon  my  father's  house.'9 
So  the  Lord  repented  and  He  bade  the  angel  to  spare  the 
people,  but  David  to  offer  sacrifice,  for  sacrifices  were  then 
offered  for  sin,  but  now  they  are  sacrifices  of  penance.  Thus, 
by  his  humility  he  became  more  acceptable  to  God,  for  it  is  not 
strange  that  man  sins,  but  it  is  reprehensible  if  he  does  not 
acknowledge  that  he  has  erred  and  humble  himself  before 
God. 

Holy  Job,  also  powerful  in  this  world,  says:  'I  have  not 
hid  my  sin,  but  declared  it  before  all  the  people.'10  To  fierce 
King  Saul  his  own  son  Jonathan  said:  'Sin  not  against  thy 
servant  David,5  and  'Why  wilt  thou  sin  against  innocent 
blood  by  killing  David,  who  is  without  fault?'11  Although  he 
was  a  king,  he  sinned  if  he  killed  the  innocent.  Finally,  even 
David,  when  he  was  in  possession  of  his  kingdom  and  had 
heard  that  an  innocent  man  named  Abner  was  slain  by  Joab, 
the  leader  of  his  army,  said:  CI  and  my  kingdom  are  innocent 
now  and  forever  of  the  blood  of  Abner  the  son  of  Ner,'12 
and  he  fasted  in  sorrow. 

These  things  I  have  written  not  to  disconcert  you  but  that 
the  examples  of  kings  may  stir  you  to  remove  this  sin  from 

8  2,  Kings  24.10,14. 

9  2  Kings  24.17. 

10  Job  31.34    (Scptuagint) . 

11  1  Kings  19.4,5. 

12  2  Kings  3.28. 


24  SAINT  AMBROSE 

your  kingdom,  for  you  will  remove  it  by  humbling  your  soul 
before  God.  You  are  a  man,  you  have  met  temptation- 
conquer  it.  Sin  is  not  removed  except  by  tears  and  penance. 
No  angel  or  archangel  can  remove  it;  it  is  God  Himself  who 
alone  can  say:  CI  am  with  you1;13  if  we  have  sinned,  He  does 
not  forgive  us  unless  we  do  penance. 

I  urge,  I  ask,  I  beg,  I  warn,  for  my  grief  is  that  you,  who 
were  a  model  of  unheard-of  piety,  who  had  reached  the  apex 
of  clemency,  who  would  not  allow  the  guilty  to  be  in  peril, 
are  not  now  mourning  that  so  many  guiltless  have  perished. 
Although  you  waged  battles  most  successfully,  and  were 
praiseworthy  also  in  other  respects,  the  apex  of  your  deeds 
was  always  your  piety.  The  Devil  envied  you  this,  your  most 
outstanding  possession.  Conquer  him  while  you  still  have  the 
means  of  doing  so.  Do  not  add  another  sin  to  your  sin  nor 
follow  a  course  of  action  which  has  injured  many  followers. 

I  among  all  other  men,  a  debtor  to  your  Piety,  to  whom  I 
cannot  be  ungrateful,  this  piety  which  I  discover  in  many 
emperors  and  match  in  only  one,  I,  I  say,  have  no  charge  of 
arrogance  against  you,  but  I  do  have  one  of  fear.  I  dare  not 
offer  the  Holy  Sacrifice  if  you  intend  to  be  present.  Can  that 
which  is  not  allowable,  after  the  blood  of  one  man  is  shed, 
be  allowable  when  many  persons1  blood  was  shed?  I  think  not. 

Lastly,  I  am  writing  with  my  own  hand  what  you  alone 
may  read.  Thus,  may  the  Lord  free  me  from  all  anxieties, 
for  I  have  learned  very  definitely  what  I  may  not  do,  not 
from  man  nor  through  man.  In  my  anxiety,  on  the  very 
night  that  I  was  preparing  to  set  forth  you  appeared  [in  my 
dreams]  to  have  come  to  the  church  and  I  was  not  allowed 
to  offer  the  Holy  Sacrifice.  I  say  nothing  of  the  other  things 
I  could  have  avoided,  but  bore  for  love  of  you,  as  I  believe. 
May  the  Lord  make  all  things  pass  tranquilly.  Our  God 


13  Matt.  28.20. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  25 

admonishes  us  In  many  ways,  by  heavenly  signs,14  by  the 
warnings  of  the  Prophets,  and  He  wills  that  we  under- 
stand even  by  the  visions  of  sinners.  So  we  will  ask  Him  to 
remove  these  disturbances,  to  preserve  peace  for  you  who  are 
rulers,  that  the  faith  and  peace  of  the  Church  continue,  for 
It  avails  much  if  her  emperors  be  pious  Christians. 

You  certainly  wish  to  be  approved  by  God.  'There  is  a 
time  for  everything.,'15  as  it  is  written:  'It  is  time  to  act, 
O  Lord,'10  and  The  time  of  mercy,  O  God.317  You  will  make 
your  offering  then  when  you  receive  permission  to  sacrifice, 
when  your  offering  has  been  acceptable  to  God.  Would  it 
not  delight  me  to  have  the  emperor's  favor,  so  that  I  could 
act  in  accord  with  your  will  if  the  case  allowed?  Prayer  by 
itself  is  sacrifice,  it  brings  pardon  when  the  other  [sacrifice] 
causes  offence,  for  the  one  bespeaks  humility,  the  other 
contempt.  We  have  God's  word  that  He  prefers  the  doing  of 
His  command  to  the  offering  of  sacrifice.  God  proclaims 
this,  Moses  declares  it  to  the  people,  Paul  preaches  it  to  the 
Gentiles.  Do  at  the  right  moment  what  you  know  is  of 
greater  value.  1  desire  mercy,5  it  says,  "and  not  sacrifice.'18 
Are  they  not  more  Christian  who  condemn  their  sin  than 
they  who  hope  to  defend  it,  for  T.he  just  is  first  accuser  of 
himself. >19  One  who  accuses  himself  when  he  has  sinned  is 
just,  not  one  who  praises  himself. 

I  wish,  O  Emperor,  that  before  this  you  had  relied  upon 
me  rather  than  on  your  own  habits.  Since  I  realize  that  you 

14  Palanque  and   others   think  Ambrose's   reference   to   'heavenly   signs' 
refers  to  a  comet  which  appeared  and  was  visible  from  August  22  to 
September  17,  390.  McGuire    (op.  cit.  316)    does  not  think  Ambrose 
would  use  a  comet  as  a  'divine  sign  of  warning/ 

15  Eccle.  3,1. 

16  Ps.  118.126. 

17  Ps.  68.14. 

18  Matt.  9.13. 

39  Prov.  18.17    (Scptuagint) . 


26  SAINT  AMBROSE 

are  quick  to  pardon,  quick  to  retract,  as  you  have  so  often 
done,  you  have  now  been  prevented  and  I  have  not  shirked 
what  I  had  no  need  to  fear.  But,  thanks  be  to  the  Lord  who 
wills  to  chastise  His  servants  lest  He  lose  them.  This  I  have 
in  common  with  the  Prophets  and  you  will  have  it  in  common 
with  the  saints. 

Shall  I  not  value  the  father  of  Gratian20  more  than  my 
eyes?  Your  other  blessed  offspring  deserves  pardon.  I  con- 
ferred a  sweet  name  formerly  on  those  to  whom  I  bore  a 
mutual  love,  I  love,  I  cherish,  I  attend  you  with  prayers.  If 
you  trust  me,  follow  me;  if,  I  say,  you  trust  me,  acknowledge 
what  I  say;  if  you  do  not  trust  me,  pardon  what  I  do  in 
esteeming  God  more  than  you.  May  you,  the  most  blessed 
and  eminent  Emperor  Augustus,  together  with  your  holy 
offspring,  enjoy  perpetual  peace. 

4.  Ambrose  to  Theodosius  the  Emperor  (August*  392 )l 

Word  from  your  Clemency  has  broken  my  silence,2  for  I 
had  decided  that  amid  so  great  sorrows  I  could  do  nothing 
better  than  withdraw  as  far  as  possible.  Yet,  being  unable  to 
hide  away  in  some  retreat  or  abdicate  my  priestly  state,  I  at 
least  retired  within  myself  by  my  silence. 

I  sorrow,  I  confess,  with  bitter  sorrow  not  only  that 
Augustus  Valentinian  has  died  so  young,  but  also  because, 
instructed  in  the  faith  and  molded  by  your  teaching,  he  had 
become  so  devoted  toward  our  God  and  clung  to  me  with  so 

20  It  is  uncertain  which  Gratian  is  referred  to  in  this  passage. 

1  The  Consolation  on   the  Death   of   Valentinian,   translated    by   R.  J. 
Deferred  in  Volume  22  of  this  series  (New  York  1953}  should  be  read 
in  connection  with   this  letter. 

2  On  the  letter  of  Theodosius  to  Ambrose,  see  Theodorct,  H.  £  5.15. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  27 

much  affection  as  to  love  now  one  whom  he  formerly  per- 
secuted; he  now  esteemed  as  a  father  one  whom  he  formerly 
repulsed  as  an  enemy.  I  mention  this,  not  as  a  reminder  of 
his  former  wrong-doing,  but  as  proof  of  his  conversion. 
The  first-named  [wrong-doing]  was  learned  from  others;  the 
latter  was  his  own;  and  he  clung  so  firmly  to  what  you 
inspired  that  he  was  proof  against  the  arguments  of  his 
mother.  He  used  to  say  he  had  been  reared  by  me;  he  longed 
for  me  as  for  a  solicitous  parent  and  when  some  persons 
made  believe  they  had  news  of  my  arrival,  he  awaited  it 
impatiently.  Nay,  even  on  the  days  of  great  mourning,3 
although  he  had  within  the  territory  of  Gaul  saintly  and 
eminent  bishops  of  the  Lord,  he  felt  obliged  to  write  to  me  to 
give  him  the  sacrament  of  baptism.  In  this  way,  unreasonably, 
but  lovingly,  he  gave  proof  of  his  affection  toward  me. 

Shall  I  not  sigh  for  him  with  my  inmost  breath?  Shall  I 
not  embrace  him  within  the  deepest  recesses  of  my  heart  and 
soul?  Shall  I  think  that  he  is  dead  to  me?  Indeed,  he  is  more 
than  dead  to  me.  How  grateful  I  was  to  the  Lord  that  he 
was  so  changed  toward  me,  so  improved,  and  had  assumed 
a  character  so  much  more  mature.  How  grateful  was  I  to 
your  Clemency,  also,  that  you  had  not  only  restored  him  to 
power,  but,  what  is  more,  had  taught  him  your  own  faith 
and  piety.  Shall  I  not  grieve  that,  while  young  in  years,  before 
he  had  attained  as  he  desired  the  grace  of  the  sacraments, 
he  met  with  a  sudden  death?4  You  have  comforted  my  soul 
in  condescending  to  bear  witness  to  my  grief.  I  have  you, 
O  Emperor,  as  judge  of  my  affections  and  interpreter  of  my 
thoughts. 

But  we  shall  have  time  to  weep  later;  let  us  now  attend  to 
his  burial  which  your  Clemency  has  commanded  to  take 

3  The  days  of  Holy  Week. 

4  For  the  various  theories  of  his  death,  cf.  Deferrari,  op.  clt.  264. 


28  SAINT  AMBROSE 

place  here.  If  he  has  died  without  baptism,  I  now  withhold 
what  I  know.  We  have  here  a  very  beautiful  porphyry  vessel, 
well  suited  to  the  purpose;  Maximian,  the  colleague  of 
Diocletian,  was  so  buried.  There  are  also  very  precious 
porphyry  tablets  with  which  a  cover  may  be  made  to  encase 
the  king's  remains. 

This  was  made  ready  but  we  awaited  your  Clemency's 
command;  its  arrival  has  greatly  comforted  your  holy  daugh- 
ters,5 sisters  of  your  son  Valentinian,  who  are  deeply  affected 
and  the  more  so,  since  for  a  long  time  they  received  no  word 
from  you.  Your  message  has  been  no  small  consolation  to 
them,  but  while  the  remains  are  unburied  they  do  not  spare 
themselves,  for  they  daily  imagine  that  they  are  attending 
the  funeral  of  their  brother.  In  truth,  they  are  never  without 
many  tears  and  heavy  sorrow,  and  whenever  they  visit  the 
body  they  return  almost  lifeless.  It  will  be  good  for  them  and 
for  the  dear  remains  if  the  burial  is  hastened,  lest  the  summer 
heat  utterly  dissolve  them,  for  we  have  hardly  passed  its 
first  tide. 

Your  command  I  observe  and  commend  to  the  Lord.  May 
the  Lord  love  you,  for  you  love  the  Lord's  servants. 

5.  Ambrose  to  Theodosius  the  Emperor  (September,  394) 

You  thought,  most  blessed  Emperor,  as  I  learned  from 
your  august  letter,  that  I  kept  away  from  Milan  because  I 
believed  your  cause  was  abandoned  by  God.  But  I  have  not 
been  so  unwise  or  so  unmindful  of  your  virtue  and  your 
merits  as  not  to  know  that  the  help  of  heaven  would  attend 
your  Piety  while  you  were  protecting  the  Roman  Empire 

5  Justa   and  Grata,  sisters  of  Valentinian,  in  whose  presence  Ambrose 
delivered  the  funeral  speech  on  Valentinian. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  29 

from  the  ravages  of  the  barbarian  robber  and  from  the 
dominion  of  an  unworthy  usurper.1 

I  hastened  to  return  here  as  soon  as  I  learned  that  the 
one  whom  I  deemed  it  right  to  avoid  was  now  gone,  for  I 
had  not  abandoned  the  Church  at  Milan  entrusted  to  me  by 
the  judgment  of  the  Lord.  I  was  avoiding  the  presence  of  one 
who  had  involved  himself  in  sacrilege.  I  returned,  therefore, 
about  the  first  of  August  and  I  have  been  here  since  that 
day.  Here,  Augustus,  your  Clemency's  letter  reached  me. 

Thanks  be  to  the  Lord  our  God  who  has  responded  to 
your  faith  and  piety !  He  has  refashioned  an  ancient  type  of 
holiness,  letting  us  see  in  our  time  that  which  we  marvel  at  as 
we  read  the  Scriptures,  namely,  the  great  presence  of  divine 
help  in  battles,  so  that  mountain  heights  have  not  slowed  up 
the  course  of  your  coming,  nor  were  enemy  arms  a  hindrance. 

In  return  for  these  favors  you  realize  that  I  should  give 
thanks  to  the  Lord  our  God,  Gladly  shall  I  do  so,  mindful  of 
your  merit.  It  is  certain  that  the  oblation  offered  in  your 
name  will  be  pleasing  to  God,  and  what  a  mark  of  great 
devotion  and  faith  is  this!  Other  emperors,  immediately 
upon  a  victory,  order  the  erection  of  triumphal  arches  or 
other  monuments  of  their  triumphs.  Your  Clemency  prepares 
an  oblation  to  God  and  desires  an  offering  and  thanksgiving 
to  be  presented  by  priests  to  the  Lord. 

Although  I  am  unworthy  and  unequal  to  the  great  priv- 
ilege, and  the  solemnizing  of  your  prayers,  I  will  describe  what 
I  have  done.  I  took  the  letter  of  your  Piety  with  me  to  the 
altar.  I  laid  it  on  the  altar.  I  held  it  in  my  hand  when  I 
offered  the  Sacrifice,  so  that  your  faith  might  speak  through 
my  words,  and  the  letter  of  the  Augustus  discharge  the 
function  of  the  priest's  offering.2 

1  See  Letter  11,  below.          , 

2  An  interesting  revelation  of  the  manner  of  offering  Mass  for  another's 
intention  in  the  early  history  of  the  Church. 


30  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Truly  Is  the  Lord  propitious  to  the  Roman  Empire  when 
He  chooses  such  a  prince  and  father  of  princes,  whose  virtue 
and  power,  set  upon  such  a  triumphant  pinnacle  of  power, 
rests  on  such  humility  that  he  surpasses  emperors  by  his 
virtue  and  priests  by  his  humility.  What  can  I  yet  hope  for? 
What  do  I  yet  desire?  You  have  everything  and  from  what  is 
yours  I  shall  take  the  full  measure  of  prayers.  You  are  pious, 
O  Emperor,  and  you  possess  the  utmost  clemency. 

Yet  I  hope  that  you  will  experience  even  more  and  more 
an  increase  of  piety,  for  God  can  give  nothing  more  excellent 
than  this,  that  through  your  Clemency  the  Church^  of  God, 
as  it  rejoices  in  the  peace  and  tranquility  of  the  innocent, 
may  even  so  be  gladdened  by  your  pardoning  of  the  guilty. 
Pardon  especially  those  who  have  not  offended  before.  May 
the  Lord  preserve  your  Clemency.  Amen. 

6.  Ambrose  to  Theodosius  the  Emperor  (September,  394) 

Although  I  have  written  but  recently  to  your  august 
Clemency  and  have  done  so  a  second  time,  it  did  not  seem  to 
me  that  I  had  responded  sufficiently  to  the  duty  of  inter- 
course by  so  answering  in  turn,  for  I  have  been  enriched  so 
by  the  frequent  benefits  of  your  Clemency  that  I  can  in  no 
way  repay  the  services  I  owe,  most  blessed  and  august 
Emperor. 

Therefore,  since  that  first  occasion  was  not  to  be  lost  when, 
through  your  chamberlain.,  1  gave  thanks  to  your  Clemency 
and  performed  the  duty  of  addressing  you,  lest  you  think 
that  it  was  through  negligence  rather  than  need  that  I  did 
not  write  you  on  the  previous  occasion,  I  had  to  find  a 
reason  for  sending  my  dutiful  greeting  to  your  Piety. 

To  deliver  my  letter  in  a  manner  befitting  you  I  am 
sending  my  son,  the  deacon  Felix,  that  he  may  at  one  and  the 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  31 

same  time  represent  me  and  also  bring  the  appeal  of  those 
who  fled  to  the  Church,  the  mother  of  your  Piety,  begging 
mercy.  I  could  not  bear  their  tears  but  anticipated  by  my 
entreaty  the  coming  of  your  Clemency. 

Ours  is  a  great  request,  but  we  are  asking  it  of  one  to 
whom  the  Lord  has  granted  unheard-of  wonders,  of  whose 
clemency  we  know  and  whose  piety  we  have  as  a  pledge. 
Hence,  we  confess  that  we  hope  for  more  in  that  you  have 
conquered  by  your  virtue  and  ought  also  conquer  yourself 
by  your  piety.  It  is  said  that  your  victory  was  granted  in  the 
manner  of  the  ancients,  with  ancient  portents  like  those  of 
blessed  Moses,  of  blessed  Josue  the  son  of  Nun,  of  Samuel, 
and  of  David;  it  was  granted  not  by  man's  foresight  but  by 
the  outpouring  of  heavenly  grace.  We  here  beg  a  like  piety 
by  whose  excellence  so  great  a  victory  has  been  gained. 

7.  Ambrose,  bishop,  to  the  most  blessed  prince  and  most 
Christian  Emperor,   Valentinian   (Summer,  384 )l 

Not  only  are  all  men  under  the  sway  of  Rome  in  the  service 
of  you,  the  emperors  and  princes  of  the  earth,  but  you  your- 
selves are  also  in  the  service  of  almighty  God  and  of  our  holy 
faith.  Salvation  will  not  be  assured  unless  each  one  truly 
worships  the  true  God,  that  is,  the  God  of  the  Christians,  by 
whom  all  things  are  governed.  He  alone  is  the  true  God 
who  is  worshiped  with  the  inmost  being:  'For  the  gods  of 
the  gentiles  are  idols,'  as  Scripture  says.2 

Whoever  serves  this  true  God,  receiving  Him  with  deep 
affection,  in  order  to  worship  Him,  displays  not  lying  and 

1  This  letter  gave  occasion  to  the  Relatio  of  Symmachus.  These  works 
and  Ambrose's  letter  to  Eugenius  are  edited  and  commented  upon  by 
J.  Wytzes,  Der  Streit  urn  den  Altar  der  Viktoria    (Amsterdam  1936) . 

2  Ps.  95.5. 


32  SAINT  AMBROSE 

treachery,  but  a  zeal  and  devotion  to  the  faith.  And  if  he 
owes  not  these,  he  at  least  owes  no  worship  to  idols  and  to 
profane  ceremonial  cults.  No  one  deceives  God  to  whom  all 
things,  even  the  secrets  of  the  heart,  are  manifest. 

Therefore,  since  you  have  truly  shown  your  faith  in  God, 
most  Christian  Emperor,  I  am  amazed  that  your  zeal  for  the 
faith,  your  protection  and  devotion  have  given  hope  to  some 
persons  that  you  are  now  obligated  to  erect  altars  to  the  gods 
of  the  heathens  and  to  furnish  credit  for  the  upkeep  of  profane 
sacrifices.  This  expense,  which  for  a  long  time  was  charged  to 
the  revenues  or  to  the  treasury,  you  will  appear  to  expend 
out  of  your  own  resources,  rather  than  to  be  making 
restitution  from  it. 

They  are  complaining  of  their  losses,  they  who  were  never 
sparing  of  our  blood,  who  ruined  our  church  buildings.  They 
also  ask  you  to  give  *  them  privileges,  who  by  the  recent 
Julian  law  refused  to  us  the  ordinary  privilege  of  preaching 
and  teaching,  those  privileges  by  which  even  Christians  have 
often  been  made  to  apostatize.3  By  these  privileges  they  have 
wanted  to  win  some  persons  by  improvidence  and  others 
through  the  difficulty  of  bearing  public  offices;  and,  since  all 
are  not  found  steadfast,  several,  even  under  Christian  princes, 
have  fallen  from  the  faith. 

If  these  privileges  had  not  already  been  abolished,  I 
would  approve  their  being  done  away  with  by  your  authority. 
But,  since  these  were  almost  universally  banned  and  sup- 
pressed by  several  predecessors  and  annulled  by  rescript  at 
Rome  by  your  Clemency's  brother,  Gratian  of  august 
memory,  through  the  logic  of  his  true  faith,  do  not,  I  beg 
you,  repeal  these  measures  on  religion  or  tear  up  your  brother's 
edicts.  It  does  not  occur  to  anyone  to  interfere  rashly  in  a 

S  Wytzes  omits  this  passage  in  the  Latin  text,  hut  translates  it  in  the 
German. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  33 

civil  matter  which  is  a  statute  of  law,  and  here  you  are  over- 
riding an  edict  on  religion. 

Let  no  one  take  advantage  of  your  youth;  if  it  is  a  pagan 
who  makes  these  demands,  he  ought  not  ensnare  your  mind 
in  the  meshes  of  superstition,  but  by  his  zeal  he  should  teach 
and  instruct  you  how  to  be  zealous  for  the  true  faith  since 
he  defends  untruth  with  so  much  zeal.  I  agree  that  we  must 
be  respectful  of  the  true  merits  of  men  of  distinction,  but  it 
is  certain  that  God  should  be  preferred  to  all  men. 

If  one  is  seeking  advice  on  military  affairs,  he  should 
await  the  advice  of  a  man  skilled  in  battle  and  should  hold 
to  his  opinion.  Now  that  it  is  a  matter  of  religion,  think  of 
God.  No  one  is  offended  when  almighty  God  is  more  esteemed 
than  he  is.  God  has  His  opinion.  You  do  not  compel  a  man 
to  worship  what  he  does  not  wish,  being  unwilling.  You,  too, 
O  Emperor,  are  allowed  the  same,  and  everyone  should  bear 
up  graciously  if  he  does  not  secure  from  the  emperor  what  he 
would  impatiently  bear  if  the  emperor  desired  to  wrest  it 
from  him.  The  pagans  themselves  are  wont  to  detest  one 
who  betrays  his  conscience ;  each  one  should  be  free  to  defend 
faithfully  and  keep  his  own  principles. 

But  if  some  men,  Christians  in  name,  think  such  a  decree 
should  be  promulgated,  let  not  their  mere  words  overwhelm 
your  mind,  their  vain  assumptions  deceive  you.  Whoever 
gives  this  advice  or  whoever  agrees  to  it  is  offering  sacrifice. 
But  the  sacrifice  of  one  is  more  tolerable  than  the  downfall  of 
all.  In  this  the  whole  number  of  Christian  Senators  is  in 
danger. 

If  today  some  pagan  emperor — God  forbid! — should  set 
up  an  altar  to  idols  and  compel  Christians  to  hold  their 
meetings  there,  to  be  present  at  the  sacrifices,  so  that  the 
Christian's  breath  and  nostrils  would  be  filled  with  the  ashes 
from  the  altar,  cinders  from  the  sacrifice,  and  smoke  from  the 
wood;  and  if  he  would  give  his  opinion  in  the  curia,  where  in 


34  SAINT  AMBROSE 

giving  their  opinion  they  would  be  forced  to  swear  at  the 
altar  of  the  idol  (for  this  is  how  they  interpret  the  altar 
erected  so  that,  as  they  think,  each  meeting,  by  his  oath,  will 
be  held  in  its  midst,  although  the  curia  already  has  a  majority 
number  of  Christians),  the  Christian  compelled  to  come  into 
the  Senate  would  on  these  conditions  think  it  a  persecution. 
This  is  being  done  quite  generally.  They  are  forced  to  meet 
under  penalties.  Now  that  you  are  the  emperor,  will  Christians 
be  forced  to  take  their  oath  on  an  altar?  What  does  taking  an 
oath  mean  except  to  put  one's  trust  in  the  divine  power  of 
one  who  you  think  is  the  judge  of  your  good  faith?  Now 
that  you  are  the  emperor,  is  this  being  asked  for  and  expected? 
Are  you  bidding  that  an  altar  be  raised  and  money  allocated 
for  profane  sacrifices? 

A  decree  like  this  cannot  be  enforced  without  sacrilege.  I 
beg  you  not  to  make  such  a  decree,  nor  pass  a  law,  nor  sign 
a  decree  of  this  sort.  As  a  priest  of  Christ,  I  appeal  to  your 
faith.  All  priests  would  make  the  appeal  with  me  if  the 
sudden  news  which  came  to  their  ears  were  not  unbelievable 
that  such  a  measure  was  suggested  in  your  council  or 
demanded  by  the  Senate.  Do  not  let  it  be  said  that  the  Senate 
demanded  this,  A  few  pagans  are  usurping  the  name  which  is 
not  theirs.  When  the  same  thing  was  tried  about  two  years 
ago,  Damasus,  the  holy  bishop  of  the  Roman  Church,  elected 
by  God's  judgment,  sent  me  a  counter-petition  which  the 
Christian  senators  had  given  him.  In  great  numbers  they 
protested  that  they  had  made  no  such  demand,  that  they 
did  not  agree  with  such  requests  of  the  pagans  or  give  their 
assent.  In  public  and  in  private  they  murmured  that  they 
would  not  come  to  the  Senate  if  such  a  measure  were 
decreed.  Is  it  dignified  in  your  day,  a  Christian  day,  that 
Christian  Senators  be  deprived  of  their  dignity  so  that 
heathens  may  have  deference  paid  to  their  unholy  will?  I 
sent  this  memorandum  to  the  brother  of  your  Clemency* 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  35 

wherein  was  clear  evidence  that  the  Senate  had  made  no 
provision  for  the  upkeep  of  superstition. 

Perhaps  it  may  be  said :  c Why  were  they  not  present  in  the 
Senate  when  such  proposals  were  being  made?3  They  say 
clearly  enough  what  they  wish,  by  not  being  present;  they 
have  said  enough  by  speaking  to  the  emperor.  Yet  it  is 
strange  to  us  that  they  take  from  private  individuals  at  Rome 
the  liberty  of  resisting,  while  they  are  unwilling  that  you  be 
free  to  withhold  ordering  what  you  do  not  approve  and  to 
maintain  what  you  feel  is  right. 

Mindful,  therefore,  of  the  commission  lately  laid  upon  me 
I  again  call  upon  your  faith,  I  call  upon  your  judgment.  Do 
not  think  that  you  have  to  give  an  answer  favorable  to  the 
pagans,  nor  join  to  your  answer  in  such  a  matter  the 
sacrilege  of  your  signature.  Refer  with  assurance  to  the  father 
of  your  Piety,  Emperor  Theodosius,  whom  you  have  been 
accustomed  to  consult  in  almost  all  matters  of  great  impor- 
tance. Nothing  is  of  more  importance  than  religion;  nothing 
is  more  exalted  than  faith. 

If  this  were  a  civil  case,  the  opposing  party  would  be 
guaranteed  the  right  of  reply.  It  is  a  religious  case,  and  I,  the 
bishop,  am  using  that  right.  Let  a  copy  of  the  appeal  be 
given  me,  and  I  will  answer  more  fully.  And  may  it  seem 
fit  to  you  to  consult  your  faith's  opinion  on  all  these  matters. 
Certainly,  if  any  other  decision  is  reached,  we  bishops  cannot 
tranquilly  allow  it  and  pretend  not  to  notice.  You  will  be 
allowed  to  come  to  the  church,  but  either  you  will  find  there 
no  priest  or  you  will  find  one  who  will  gainsay  you. 

What  will  you  answer  the  priest  who  says  to  you:  cThe 
Church  does  not  want  your  gifts  because  you  have  adorned 
the  heathen  temples  with  gifts.  The  altar  of  Christ  spurns 
your  gifts  since  you  have  made  an  altar  for  idols.  Yours  is 
the  voice,  yours  the  hand,  yours  the  signature,  yours  the 
work.  The  Lord  Jesus  scorns  and  spurns  your  worship  since 


36  SAINT  AMBROSE 

you  have  worshiped  idols,  for  He  said  to  you:  "You  cannot 
serve  two  masters."4  Virgins  consecrated  to  God  have  no 
privileges  from  you,  and  do  Vestal  virgins  lay  claim  to  them? 
Why  do  you  ask  for  God's  priests  to  whom  you  have  brought 
the  unholy  demands  of  the  pagans?  We  cannot  be  associated 
with  another's  error.' 

What  will  you  answer  to  these  words?  That  you  are  but  a 
boy  who  has  fallen?  Every  age  is  perfect  in  Christ,  every  one 
full  of  God.  Childhood  is  not  allowed  to  faith;  even  babes 
have  confessed  Christ  before  persecutors  with  fearless  words. 

What  will  you  answer  your  brother?  Will  he  not  say  to 
you:  'Because  I  left  you  as  emperor,  I  did  not  think  I  was 
vanquished;  I  did  not  grieve  dying,  because  I  had  you  as 
heir;  I  did  not  mourn  in  leaving  my  kingdom,  because  I 
believed  that  my  imperial  commands,  especially  those  on 
divine  religion,  would  last  forever.  I  had  set  up  these 
memorials  of  pious  virtue,  these  trophies  from  the  world, 
these  spoils  from  the  Devil,  I  offered  these  victories  over  the 
adversary  of  all  in  whom  there  is  eternal  victory.  What  more 
could  my  enemy  take  from  me?  You  have  annulled  rny 
decrees;  even  he  [Maximian],  who  took  up  arms  against  me, 
did  not  do  this.  In  this  I  am  wounded  by  a  heavier  weapon 
in  that  my  brother  has  condemned  my  decrees.  The  better 
part  of  me  is  imperiled  with  you;  that  was  death  of  the  body, 
this  the  death  of  my  reputation  for  virtue.  Now  my  power  is 
annulled  and,  more  serious,  is  annulled  by  your  acts,  is  an- 
nulled by  my  own  family,  and  that  is  annulled  which  even  my 
enemies  had  praised  in  me.  If  you  have  acquiesced  willingly, 
you  have  destroyed  my  faith  in  you;  if  you  have  yielded 
unwillingly,  you  have  betrayed  your  own  faith.  And  this  is 
even  more  serious,  the  fact  that  I  am  imperiled  with  you.' 

What  will  you  answer  your  father,  who  will  confront  you 
with  great  sorrow,  saying:  'Son,  you  have  judged  me  very 


4  Matt.  6.24. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  37 

ill,  thinking  that  I  would  have  connived  with  the  pagans.  No 
one  ever  told  me  that  there  was  an  altar  in  the  Roman 
Senate  House;  I  had  never  believed  such  wickedness,  that  in 
the  common  meeting  place  of  Christians  and  pagans  the 
pagans  offered  sacrifice,  that  is,  the  pagans  reviled  the 
Christians  present  and  Christians  unwillingly  were  forced  to 
attend  the  sacrifices.  When  I  was  emperor,  many  kinds  of 
crimes  were  committed.  I  punished  those  I  detected.  If  some 
one  escaped  my  notice,  should  it  be  said  I  approved  what  no 
one  had  appraised  me?  You  have  judged  me  very  ill  if  the 
Gentiles'  superstition  and  not  my  faith  preserved  the  Empire.3 
Wherefore,  O  Emperor,  you  see  that  if  you  decree  anything 
of  this  kind  you  will  offer  injury  first  to  God  and  then  to  your 
father  and  brother;  I  beg  you  do  what  you  know  will  benefit 
your  own  salvation  before  God.5 


8.  Ambrose,   bishop,  to  the  most  blessed  prince  and  most 
dement  Emperor  Valentinian  Augustus  (Autumn,  384) 

The  illustrious  prefect  of  the  city,  Symmachus,  has  made 
an  appeal  to  your  Clemency  that  the  altar  which  was  removed 
from  the  Senate  House  in  the  city  of  Rome  be  restored  to  its 
place.1  You,  O  Emperor,  still  young  in  age,  a  new  recruit 

5  In  his  second  letter  on  this  subject  to  Valentinian,  Ambrose  seems  to 
imply  that  Valentinian  had  already  rejected  the  proposal  of  the  Senate 
when  he  addressed  this  letter  to  him.  He  likewise  says  (Com.  Vol.  19) 
that  'when  all  who  were  present  in  the  consistory,  Christians  and 
pagans  alike,  said  that  these  privileges  should  be  restored,  he  alone 
[Valentinian]  like  Daniel,  with  the  spirit  of  God  aroused  within  him, 
denounced  the  Christians  for  lack  of  faith  and  resisted  the  pagans  by 
saying:  "How  can  you  think  that  what  my  brother  took  away  should 
be  restored  by  me?"  since  thereby  both  his  religion  and  his  brother,  by 
whom  he  was  unwilling  to  be  surpassed  in  piety,  would  be  offended.' 
(Trans.  Deferrari,  Fathers  of  the  Church  22,  pp.  274-275) .  The  above 
statement  is  difficult  to  reconcile  with  the  general  tone  of  reproof  in 
this  letter. 


1  Symmachus,  Memorial,  ed.  J.  Wytzes,  op.  cit.  48-61. 


38  SAINT  AMBROSE 

without  experience,  but  a  veteran  in  faith,  did  not  approve 
the  appeal  of  the  pagans.  The  very  moment  I  learned  this  I 
presented  a  request  in  which,  although  I  stated  what  seemed 
necessary  to  suggest,  I  asked  that  I  be  given  a  copy  of  the 
appeal. 

Not  doubtful,  therefore,  regarding  your  faith,  but  foreseeing 
the  care  that  is  necessary,  and  being  confident  of  a  kindly 
consideration,  I  am  answering  the  demands  of  the  appeal 
with  this  discourse,  making  this  one  request  that  you  will  not 
expect  eloquence  of  speech  but  the  force  of  facts.  For,  as 
holy  Scripture  teaches,2  the  tongue  of  the  wise  and  studious 
man  is  golden,  decked  with  glittering  words  and  shining  with 
the  gleam  of  eloquence,  as  though  some  rich  hue,  capturing 
the  eyes  of  the  mind  by  the  comeliness  of  its  appearance, 
dazzling  in  its  beauty.  But  this  gold,  if  you  examine  it  care- 
fully, though  outwardly  precious,  within  is  a  base  metal 
Ponder  well,  I  beg  you,  and  examine  the  sect  of  the  pagans. 
They  sound  weighty  and  grand;  they  support  what  is  in- 
capable of  being  true;  they  talk  of  God,  but  they  adore  a 
statue. 

The  distinguished  prefect  of  the  city  has  brought  forth  in 
his  appeal  three  points  which  he  considers  of  weight;  namely, 
that  (according  to  him)  Rome  is  asking  again  for  her  ancient 
rites,  that  the  priests  and  Vestal  virgins  should  be  given  their 
stipends,  and  since  these  stipends  have  been  refused  to  the 
priests  there  has  been  general  famine. 

According  to  the  first  proposal,  as  he  says,  Rome  is  shedding 
tears  with  sad  and  mournful  complaints,  asking  again  for 
her  ancient  ceremonies.  The  sacred  objects,  he  says,  drove 
Hannibal  from  the  city  and  the  Senones  from  the  Capitol 
But  at  the  same  time  as  the  power  of  the  sacred  objects  is 
proclaimed,  their  weakness  is  betrayed.  Hannibal  reviled  the 
sacred  objects  of  the  Romans  for  a  long  time,  and  while  the 


2  Cf.  Eccle.  6.11;  Prov.  15.2. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  39 

gods  warred  against  themselves  the  conqueror  reached  the 
city's  walls.  Why  did  they  allow  themselves  to  be  besieged 
when  the  weapons  of  their  gods  did  battle  for  them? 

Why  should  I  make  mention  of  the  Senones,  whom,  when 
they  penetrated  the  innermost  recesses  of  the  Capitol,  the 
Roman  forces  could  not  have  withstood  had  not  a  goose 
(with  its  frightened  cackling)  betrayed  them.  See  what  sort 
of  protectors  guard  the  Roman  temples.  Where  was  Jupiter 
at  that  time?  Was  he  making  a  statement  through  a  goose? 

Why  do  I  refuse  to  admit  that  their  sacred  objects  warred 
in  behalf  of  the  Romans?  Hannibal,  too,  worshiped  the  same 
gods.  Let  them  choose  whichever  they  wish.  If  these  sacred 
objects  conquered  in  the  Romans,  then  they  were  overcome 
in  the  Carthaginians.  If  they  triumphed  in  the  Carthaginians, 
they  certainly  did  not  help  the  Romans. 

Let  us  have  no  more  grudging  complaint  from  the  people  of 
Rome.  Rome  has  authorized  no  such  complaints.  She  ad- 
dresses them  with  the  words :  'Why  do  you  stain  me  each  day 
with  the  useless  blood  of  the  harmless  herd?  Trophies  of 
victory  depend  not  on  entrails  of  sheep  but  on  the  strength 
of  warriors.  I  subdued  the  world  by  other  skills.  Camillus 
was  a  soldier  of  mine  who  slew  those  who  had  captured  the 
Tarpeian  rock  and  brought  back  the  standards  which  had 
been  taken  from  the  Capitol.  Valor  laid  low  those  whom 
religion  had  not  reached.  What  shall  I*  say  of  Attilius,3  who 
bestowed  the  service  of  his  death?  Africanus  found  his 
triumphs  not  amid  the  altars  of  the  Capitol  but  among  the 
ranks  of  Hannibal.  Why  do  you  give  me  these  examples  of 
ancient  heroes?  I  despise  the  ceremonies  of  the  Neroes.  Why 
mention  emperors  of  two  months'  duration?  And  the  down- 
fall of  kings  coupled  with  their  rising?  Or  is  it  *  something 
new,  perhaps,  for  the  barbarians  to  have  overrun  their 
territory?  In  those  wretched  and  strange  cases  when  an 

3  Regulus. 


40  '  SAINT  AMBROSE 

emperor  was  held  captive,  and  then  a  world  held  captive 
under  an  emperor,  was  it  the  Christians  who  revealed  the 
fact  that  the  ceremonies  which  promised  victory  were  fal- 
sified? Was  there  then  no  altar  of  Victory?  I  lament  my 
downfall.  My  old  age  is  accompanied  by  shame  over  that 
disgraceful  bloodshed.  But  I  am  not  ashamed  to  be  converted 
in  my  old  age  along  with  the  whole  world.  Surely  it  is  true 
that  no  age  is  too  late  to  learn.  Let  that  old  age  feel  shame 
which  cannot  rectify  itself.  It  is  not  the  old  age  of  years 
which  is  entitled  to  praise,  but  that  of  character.4  There  is 
no  disgrace  in  going  on  to  better  things.  This  alone  I  had 
in  common  with  the  barbarians,  that  I  did  not  know  God 
before.  Your  sacrifice  consists  in  the  rite  of  being  sprinkled 
with  the  blood  of  beasts.  Why  do  you  look  for  God's  words 
in  dead  animals?  Come  and  learn  of  the  heavenly  warfare 
which  goes  on  on  earth.  We  live  here,  but  we  war  there.5 
Let  God  Himself,  who  established  the  mystery  of  heaven, 
teach  me  about  it,  not  man  who  does  not  know  himself. 
Whom  more  than  God  shall  I  believe  concerning  God?  How 
can  I  believe  you  who  admit  that  you  do  not  know  what 
you  worship?' 

So  great  a  secret,  it  is  said,  cannot  be  reached  by  one 
road.  We  [Christians]  know  on  God's  word  what  you  do  not 
know.  And  what  you  know  by  conjecture  we  have  discovered 
from  the  very  wisdom  and  truth  of  God.  Your  ways  do  not 
agree  with  ours.  You  ask  peace  for  your  gods  from  the 
emperors;  we  beg  peace  for  our  emperors  from  Christ.  You 
adore  the  works  of  your  hands;  we  consider  it  wrong  to 
think  that  anything  which  can  be  made  is  God.  God  does 
not  wish  to  be  worshiped  in  stones.  Even  your  philosophers 
have  ridiculed  these  ideas, 

But  if  you  say  that  Christ  is  not  God  because  you  do  not 

4  Of.  Wisd.  4.9. 

5  Jn  heaven. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  41 

believe  that  He  died  (for  you  do  not  realize  that  that  was  a 
death  of  the  body  not  of  the  divinity,  which  has  brought  it 
about  that  no  believer  will  die),  why  is  this  so  senseless  to 
you  who  worship  with  insult  and  disparage  with  honor, 
thinking  that  your  god  is  a  piece  of  wood?  O  worship  most 
insulting!  You  do  not  believe  that  Christ  could  have  died. 
O  honorable  stubborness! 

But,  says  he,  the  ancient  altars  should  be  restored  to  the 
images,  the  ornaments  to  the  shrines.  Let  these  demands  be 
made  by  one  who  shares  their  superstition.  A  Christian 
emperor  knows  how  to  honor  the  altar  of  Christ  alone.  Why 
do  they  force  pious  hands  and  faithful  lips  to  do  service  to 
their  sacrilege?  Let  the  voice  of  our  emperor  utter  the  name 
of  Christ  and  call  on  Him  only  whom  he  is  conscious  of, 
for  cthe  heart  of  the  king  is  in  the  hand  of  God.'6  Has  any 
heathen  emperor  raised  an  altar  to  Christ?  While  they 
demand  the  restoration  of  all  things  which  used  to  be,  they 
show  by  their  own  example  what  great  reverence  Christian 
emperors  should  give  to  the  religion  which  they  follow,  since 
the  heathens  offered  everything  to  their  superstitions. 

We  had  our  beginning  long  ago,  and  now  they  are  follow- 
ing those  whom  they  excluded.  We  glory  in  [shedding]  our 
blood;  they  are  disturbed  by  the  spending  of  money.  We 
think  these  acts  take  the  place  of  victory;  they  reckon  them 
a  loss.  Never  did  they  confer  more  upon  us  than  when  they 
ordered  Christians  scourged  and  outlawed  and  put  to  death. 
Religion  made  a  reward  out  of  that  which  unbelief  thought 
was  a  punishment.  See  these  magnanimous  individuals!  We 
have  increased  through  our  losses,  through  want,  through 
punishment.  They  do  not  believe  that  their  ceremonies  can 
continue  unless  donations  continue. 

Let  the  Vestal  virgins,  he  says,  keep  their  privileged  state. 
Let  men  say  this  who  are  not  able  to  believe  what  virginity 

6  Prov.  2.1. 


42  SAINT  AMBROSE 

can  do  without  reward.  Let  them  derive  encouragement 
from  gainful  means,  having  no  confidence  in  virtue.  How 
many  virgins  get  the  rewards  promised  to  them?  About 
seven  Vestal  virgins  are  accepted.  Lo!  that  is  the  whole 
number  of  those  attracted  by  fillets  and  chaplets  for  the 
head,  or  purple-dyed  robes,  the  pomp  of  a  litter  surrounded 
by  a  group  of  attendants,  the  greatest  privileges,  great  gains, 
and  a  set  period  of  virginity. 

Let  them  raise  the  eye  of  the  mind  and  of  the  body  and 
see  a  nation  of  modesty,  a  people  of  purity,  an  assembly  of 
virginity.  Fillets  are  not  the  adornment  of  the  head  but  a 
veil  in  common  use,  ennobled  by  chastity.  The  finery  of 
beauty  is  not  sought  after,  it  is  relinquished.  There  are  none 
of  those  purple  insignia,  no  charming  luxuries,  but  rather  the 
practice  of  fasts,  no  privileges,  no  gains.  All  are  such,  in 
fine,  that  you  would  think  enjoyment  restrained  while  duties 
are  performed.  But  while  they  perform  their  duty,  enjoyment 
grows  apace.  Chastity  mounts  by  its  own  sacrifices.  That  is 
not  virginity  which  is  bought  for  a  price  and  not  kept  through 
a  desire  for  the  virtue.  That  is  not  purity  which  is  paid  for 
with  money  at  an  auction  and  only  for  a  time.  Chastity's 
chief  victory  is  to  conquer  the  desire  for  wealth  because 
eagerness  for  gain  is  a  temptation  to  modesty.  Let  us  grant 
that  bountiful  provisions  should  be  given  to  virgins.  What 
amounts  will  overflow  upon  Christians!  What  treasury  will 
supply  such  riches?  Or  if  they  think  that  only  Vestals  should 
be  given  grants,  are  they  not  ashamed  that  they  claimed  the 
whole  for  themselves  under  heathen  emperors  and  do  not 
think  that  under  Christian  princes  we  should  have  a  like 
share? 

They  complain  also  that  public  support  is  not  being  duly 
granted  to  their  priests  and  ministers.  What  a  storm  of  words 
has  sounded  on  this  point!  On  the  other  hand,  under 
recent  laws  we  were  denied  even  the  Inheritance  of  private 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  43 

property,  and  no  one  is  complaining.  We  do  not  think  that 
is  an  injury  because  we  do  not  grieve  over  losses.  If  a  priest 
seeks  the  privilege  of  declining  the  municipal  burden,  he  has 
to  give  up  the  paternal  and  ancestral  ownership  of  all  his 
property.  If  the  heathens  suffered  this,  how  would  they  urge 
their  complaint,  if  the  priest  had  to  buy  free  time  for  the 
exercise  of  his  ministry  by  the  loss  of  his  patrimony,  and 
purchase  the  power  of  exercising  his  public  ministry  at  the 
expense  of  all  his  private  means!  In  addition,  alleging  his 
vigils  for  the  common  safety,  he  must  console  himself  with 
the  reward  of  domestic  poverty,  because  he  has  not  sold  his 
service  but  has  obtained  a  favor. 

Compare  the  cases.  You  wish  to  excuse  a  decurion  when 
it  is  not  permitted  the  Church  to  excuse  a  priest.  Wills  are 
made  out  in  favor  of  the  ministers  of  the  temples;  no  ordinary 
person  is  excluded,  no  one  of  the  lowest  condition,  no  one 
openly  shameless;  only  the  clergy  are  denied  the  common 
privilege,  and  they  are  the  ones  who  offer  common  prayer 
for  all  men  and  render  a  common  service.7  They  may  have 
no  legacy  even  from  venerable  widows,  no  gifts.  And  where 
no  fault  of  character  can  be  found 'a  fine  is  imposed  upon 
one's  official  capacity.  A  bequest  made  by  a  Christian  widow 
to  the  priests  of  the  temple  is  valid,  but  what  is  left  to  the 
ministers  of  God  is  invalid.  I  have  described  this  not  to  com- 
plain but  so  that  they  will  know  of  what  I  do  not  complain, 
for  I  prefer  that  we  be  poorer  in  money  than  in  grace: 

They  answer  that  what  has  been  given  or  left  to  the 
Church  has  not  been  touched.  Let  them  say  also  who  it  is 
that  has  taken  away  gifts  from  the  temples,  for  that  is  what 
has  been  done  to  the  Christians.  If  this  had  happened  to 

7  An  imperial  constitution  of  370  had  forbidden  clerics  or  ascetics  to 
inherit  from  any  woman  or  to  receive  any  gift  from  a  woman  while 
they  were  both  alive.  In  390,  Theodosius  forbade  deaconesses  to 
leave  their  property  to  clerics  or  to  the  Church  (Cod.  Theod.  17.11.27) . 


44  SAINT  AMBROSE 

heathens,  the  wrong  would  be  rather  a  reprisal  than  an 
injury.  Is  it  only  now  that  justice  is  being  demanded  and  a 
claim  being  made  for  fairness?  Where  was  that  feeling  when 
they  despoiled  all  Christians  of  their  property,  grudged  them 
the  very  breath  of  life,  and  finally  forbade  them  the  privilege 
of  burial,  a  privilege  denied  to  none  of  the  dead  anywhere? 
The  sea  gave  back  those  whom  the  heathens  had  thrown  into 
it.  This  is  the  victory  of  faith,  that  they  now  reap  the  deeds 
of  their  ancestors.  But,  alas!  What  sense  is  there  in  seeking 
the  favors  of  those  whose  actions  were  not  approved  by  them? 

No  one,  however,  has  refused  gifts  to  the  shrines  or 
legacies  to  the  soothsayers;  only  their  land  has  been  taken 
away  because  they  did  not  use  in  a  religious  way  what  they 
claimed  as  a  right  of  religion.  Why  did  they  not  make  use  of 
our  practice  if  they  are  using  us  as  an  example?  The  Church 
owns  nothing  except  her  faith.  It  furnishes  her  with  returns, 
it  furnishes  her  with  increase.  The  property  of  the  Church  is 
the  support  of  the  poor.  Let  them  take  account  of  how  many 
captives  the  temples  have  brought  back,  what  food  they 
have  provided  for  the  poor,  to  what  exiles  they  have  furnished 
the  means  of  a  livelihood.  Their  lands  have  been  taken  away, 
not  their  rights. 

See,  they  say,  a  sad  condition  atoned  for8— a  public  famine 
avenged  what  had  taken  place  and  that  which  served  only 
the  advantage  of  priests  began  being  advantageous  to  all. 
For  this  reason,  they  say,  the  bark  was  stripped  from  the 
woods  and  carried  off  and  the  fainting  men  drank  with  their 
lips9  the  unsavory  sap.  Therefore,  changing  Chaonian  wine 
for  the  acorn,1  ()  going  back  again  to  the  food  of  cattle  and  to 
the  nourishment  of  wretched  provisions,  they  shook  the  oaks 

8  Virgil,   Aencid  2,181.  This    is    the   first   of   numerous    imitations   of 
Virgil  in   this  letter.  See  also',  Sister  M.  I>.  Dieclcrich,   Vergil  in  the 
Works  of  St.  Ambrose   (Washington  1931). 

9  Cf.  Aen.  2.2 11. 
10  Cf,  Georg.  1.8. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  45 

and  satisfied  their  dire  hunger  in  the  woods.11  Surely,  these 
are  strange  events  in  earth,  which  never  happened  before 
when  the  heathen  superstition  was  fervent  throughout  the 
world !  In  fact,  when  before  did  the  crops  mock  the  prayers 
of  the  greedy  farmer  with  empty  stalks,12  or  the  blade  of 
corn  sought  in  the  furrows  deceive  the  hopes  of  the  rustic 
crew?13 

And  how  is  it  that  the  Greeks  considered  their  oaks 
oracles,14  except  that  they  thought  that  the  sustenance  of 
their  sylvan  food  is  the  gift  of  religion?  Such  they  believe  to 
be  the  gi%  of  their  gods.  What  people  except  heathens  have 
worshiped  the  trees  of  Dodona  when  they  paid  honor  to  the 
sorry  food  of  the  woods?  Is  it  not  likely  that  their  gods  in 
anger  inflicted  on  them  as  a  punishment  what  they,  when 
they  were  appeased,  used  to  give  them  as  a  gift?  What 
fairness  would  there  be  of  grudging  the  food  denied  to  a  few 
priests  if  they  would  deny  it  to  everybody,  for  the  vengeance 
would  be  more  unbearable  than  the  injury?  There  is  no  real 
reason  for  bringing  such  suffering  on  a  world  to  accomplish 
one  man's  downfall  as  that  the  full-grown  hope  of  the  year 
should  suddenly  perish  while  the  stalks  were  green. 

And,  surely,  it  has  been  many  years  since  the  rights  of 
temples  were  taken  away  throughout  the  world.  Has  it  just 
now  entered  the  mind  of  the  heathen  gods  to  avenge  the 
wrong?  Did  the  Nile  fail  to  overflow  in  its  accustomed  course 
to  avenge  the  losses  of  the  priests  of  the  city  while  it  did  not 
avenge  its  own? 

Suppose  that  they  think  that  the  wrongs  done  to  their  gods 
were  avenged  last  year,  why  have  they  been  unnoticed  this 
year?  The  country  people  no  longer  tear  up  roots  and  feed 

11  Cf.  Georg.  1.159. 

12  Cf.  Georg.  1.226. 

13  Cf.  Georg.  1.134. 

14  Cf.  Georg.  2.16. 


46  SAINT  AMBROSE 

upon  them,  nor  look  for  refreshment  from  the  berries  of  the 
woods,15  nor  pluck  their  food  from  thorns,  but,  taking  joy  in 
their  prosperous  labors  and  even  marveling  at  their  harvest 
themselves,  they  have  sated  their  hunger  with  the  full  enjoy- 
ment of  their  wishes.10  The  earth  gave  us  her  fruit  with 
interest. 

Who,  then,  is  such  a  stranger  to  men's  affairs  as  to  be 
astonished  at  the  alternation  of  the  seasons  of  the  year?  Yet 
we  know  that  last  year  several  provinces  had  an  abundance 
of  produce.  What  shall  I  say  of  the  Gauls  who  were  richer 
than  usual?  They  sold  the  grain  of  Pannonia  which  they  did 
not  sow,  and  Rhaetia  Sccunda  incurred  hostility  owing  ^to 
her  fertility,  for  she  who  was  ordinarily  safe  in  her  scarcity 
made  herself  an  enemy  by  her  fertility.  The  fruits  of  autumn 
fed  Liguria  and  the  Venetias.  Last  year  had  no  drought 
because  of  sacrilege;  in  fact,  it  flourished  with  the  fruits  of 
faith.  Let  them  try  to  deny  that  the  vineyards  abounded  with 
immense  produce.  We  have  received  a  harvest  with  interest 
and  we  also  possess  the  benefit  of  a  more  abundant  vintage. 

The  last  and  most  important  point  remains,  O  Emperors, 
whether  you  ought  to  reinstate  those  helps  which  have 
profited  you,  for  our  opponent  says:  cLet  them  defend  you 
and  be  worshiped  by  us  F  This,  most  faithful  Princes,  is  what 
we  cannot  tolerate,  that  they  taunt  us  saying  that  they 
supplicate  their  gods  in  your  name  and  without  your  com- 
mand commit  a  great  sacrilege.  For  they  interpret  your 
suppression  of  feelings  as  consent.  Let  them  have  their 
guardians  to  themselves;  let  these,  if  they  can,  protect  their 
devotees.  For,  if  they  cannot  help  those  who  worship  them, 
how  can  they  help  you  who  do  not  worship  them? 

But,  he  says,  we  must  keep  the  rites  of  our  ancestors. 
What  of  the  fact  that  everything  has  made  progress  later  to 

15  CL  Atn.  3.650. 

16  Cf,  Georg,   UOS. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  47 

a  better  condition?  The  world  itself,  which  at  first  was 
composed  of  elements  in  a  void,  in  a  soft  mass,  hardened  or 
was  clouded  with  the  confusion  of  a  shapeless  piece  of  work, 
did  it  not  later  receive  the  forms  of  things  by  which  it 
appears  beautiful  when  the  distinction  between  sky,  sea,  and 
earth  became  set?  The  lands  shaking  off  their  misty  shadows 
wondered  at  the  sun.  The  day  does  not  shine  at  first,  but  as 
time  proceeds  it  is  bright  with  an  increase  of  light  and  grows 
warm  with  an  increase  of  heat.17 

The  moon  herself,  by  which  the  appearance  of  the  Church 
is  mirrored  in  the  sayings  of  the  Prophets,  when  first  rising 
waxes  to  her  monthly  age,  but  is  hidden  in  night's  shadows. 
Gradually  filling  up  her  horns,18  finishing  them  in  the  region 
of  the  sun,  she  glows  with  the  brightness  of  clear  shining. 

Formerly,  the  earth  did  not  know  how  to  be  worked  for 
her  fruits.  Later,  when  the  careful  farmer  began  to  rule  the 
fields  and  to  clothe  the  shapeless  soil  with  vines,  she  put 
away  her  wild  dispositions,  being  softened  by  domestic 
cultivation.19 

The  first  part  of  the  year  itself,  stripped  of  growing  things 
which  have  tinged  our  fields  with  a  likeness  to  itself,  springlike 
with  flowers  which  will  fall,  grows  up  later  on  to  full  fruits. 

We,  too,  the  uninstructed  ages,  have  an  infancy  of  reason- 
ing, but,  changing  over  the  years,  we  lay  aside  the  rudiments 
of  our  faculties. 

Let  me  say  that  all  things  should  have  remained  in  their 
first  beginnings;  the  earth  shrouded  in  darkness  now  displeases 
us  because  it  has  been  illumined  by  the  rays  of  the  sun.  And 
how  much  more  pleasing  is  it  for  the  shadows  of  the  mind 
to  have  vanished  than  those  of  the  body,  and  for  the  ray  of 
faith  to  have  shone  rather  than  that  of  the  sun.  So,  then,  the 

17  Cf.  Eel.  6.31. 
IB  Cf.  Aen,  3.645. 
19  Cf.  Oeorg.  1.99. 


48  SAINT  AMBROSE 

primeval  age  of  the  world  has  changed  just  as  the  age  of  all 
things  and  in  the  same  way  the  venerable  old  age  of  hoary 
faith  may  change.  Let  those  whom  this  disturbs  find  fault 
with  the  harvest  for  its  abundance  in  the  late  season;  let 
them  find  fault  with  the  vintage  for  coming  at  the  fall  of  the 
year;  let  them  find  fault  with  the  olive  for  being  the  last  of 
fruits. 

So,  then,  our  harvest  is  the  faith  of  souls;  the  grace  of  the 
Church  is  the  vintage  of  merits  which  has  flourished  in  the 
saints  since  the  beginning  of  the  world,  but  in  the  last  age  it 
has  spread  among  the  nations  in  order  that  all  may  know 
that  the  faith  of  Christ  has  not  crept  upon  unlettered  minds 
(for  there  is  no  crown  of  victory  without  an  adversary),  but, 
the  opinion  having  been  rejected  which  prevailed  before, 
that  which  was  true  has  rightly  been  preferred. 

If  the  old  ceremonies  gave  pleasure,  why  did  Rome  also 
take  up  foreign  ones?  I  will  make  no  mention  of  the  ground 
hidden  by  costly  buildings  and  the  shepherds5  huts  glittering 
with  ill-suited  gold.  Why?  In  order  that  I  may  refer  to  the 
very  matter  of  which  they  complain.  Why  have  they  eagerly 
taken  statues  from  captured  cities,  and  conquered  gods,  and 
foreign  rites  of  alien  superstition?  Whence  comes  the  pre- 
cedent for  Cybele  to  wash  her  chariot  in  the  stream  of  the 
counterfeiting  Alma?  Whence  come  the  Phrygian  seers  and 
the  deities  of  unjust  Carthage  ever  hateful  to  the  Romans? 
Whence  is  she  whom  the  Africans  worship  as  Coelestis,  the 
Persians  as  Mithra,20  and  most  people  as  Venus,  according* 
to  a  diversity  of  names,  but  not  a  variety  of  deity?  They 
believed  that  Victory  was  a  goddess,  yet  it  is  a  gift,  not  a 
power;  it  is  granted  and  it  does  not  rule;  it  is  the  result  of  the 
legions,  not  of  the  power  of  religion.  Is  that  goddess  great 

20  Ambrose  wrongly  makes  Mithra  a  goddess,  not  a  god;  cf.  McGuire, 
op.  cit.  308. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  49 

whom  a  number  of  soldiers  claim  or  the  outcome  of  battle 
gives? 

They  ask  to  have  her  altar  erected  in  the  Senate  House  of 
the  city  of  Rome,  the  very  place  where  most  of  those  who 
meet  are  Christians.  There  are  altars  in  every  temple  and  an 
altar  even  in  the  Temple  of  Victories.  Since  they  take  pleasure 
in  numbers,  they  offer  their  sacrifices  everywhere.  Is  it  not 
an  insult  to  the  faith  to  insist  upon  a  sacrifice  on  this  one 
altar?  Must  we  tolerate  a  heathen  offering  of  sacrifice  in  the 
presence  of  a  Christian?  Let  them  imbibe,  he  says,  although 
they  are  unwilling,  let  them  imbibe  the  smoke  with  their  eyes, 
the  music  with  their  ears,  the  cinders  with  their  throats,  the 
incense  with  their  nostrils.  And  let  the  dust  raised  from  our 
hearths  cover  their  faces  although  they  detest  it.  Are  not 
the  baths  and  colonnades  and  streets  filled  with  enough 
statues  for  them?  Will  there  not  be  a  common  privilege  in 
that  common  meeting  place?  The  dutiful  portion  of  the 
Senate  will  be  bound  by  the  voices  of  those  who  call  upon 
the  gods,  by  the  oaths  of  those  who  swear  by  them.  If  they 
refuse,  they  will  appear  to  utter  a  lie;  if  they  consent,  to 
acknowledge  what  is  sacrilegious. 

Where,  he  says,  shall  we  swear  fealty  to  our  laws  and 
decrees?  Does  your  mind  which  is  contained  in  the  laws 
gain  assent  and  bind  to  faithfulness  by  the  rites  of  heathens? 
Not  only  is  the  faith  of  those  present  attacked  but  also  of  those 
absent,  and,  what  is  more,  O  Emperors,  your  faith  is  attacked, 
for  you  compel  if  you  command.  Constantius  of  august 
memory,  although  he  had  not  yet  been  admitted  to  the 
sacred  mysteries,  felt  he  would  be  polluted  if  he  saw  the  altar. 
He  ordered  it  to  be  removed;  he  did  not  order  it  to  be 
replaced.  That  removal  has  the  authority  of  an  act;  the 
replacing  of  it  has  not  the  authority  of  a  command. 

Let  no  one  flatter  himself  over  his  absence.  He  is  more 
present  when  he  joins  himself  to  the  thoughts  of  others  than 


50  SAINT  AMBROSE 

if  he  gives  assent  before  their  eyes.  It  is  more  important  to  be 
drawn  together  by  the  mind  than  to  be  united  with  the  body. 
The  Senate  has  you  as  its  presidents  to  convene  its  assembly. 
It  meets  in  your  behalf;  it  gives  its  conscience  to  you,  not  to 
the  gods  of  the  heathens.  It  prefers  you  to  its  children,  but 
not  to  its  faith.  This  is  the  affection  you  should  seek;  this  is  a 
love  greater  than  power,  provided  the  faith  which  preserves 
the  power  be  safe, 

Perhaps  it  may  cause  concern  to  some  that,  if  this  be  so, 
a  most  faithful  emperor  has  been  forsaken,  as  if  the  reward 
of  merits  were  to  be  thought  of  in  terms  of  the  passing  value 
of  those  present.  What  wise  man  does  not  know  that  human 
affairs  have  been  arranged  in  a  kind  of  round  and  circuit, 
that  they  do  not  enjoy  the  same  success,  but  that  their  state 
varies  and  they  undergo  changes? 

Whom  have  the  Roman  temples  sent  forth  more  prosperous 
than  Gnaeus  Pompey?  Yet,  when  he  had  circled  the  earth 
with  three  triumphs,  after  suffering  defeat  in  battle,  a  fugitive 
from  war,  and  an  exile  within  the  boundaries  of  his  own 
empire,  he  fell  by  the  hand  of  a  eunuch  of  Ganopus. 

What  king  have  the  lands  of  all  the  East  produced  more 
noble  than  Cyrus  of  the  Persians?  He,  too,  after  conquering 
extremely  powerful  princes  who  opposed  him,  and  keeping 
the  conquered  as  prisoners,  was  overthrown  and  perished  by 
the  weapons  of  a  woman.  And  that  king  who  had  treated 
even  the  vanquished  with  honor  had  his  head  cut  off  and 
placed  in  a  vessel  full  of  blood,  while  he  was  bidden  to  be 
sated  with  the  plaything  of  a  woman's  power.  The  mode  of 
his  own  life  was  not  repaid  with  similar  conduct  on  the  part 
of  others,  but  far  otherwise. 

And  whom  do  we  find  more  devoted  to  sacrifice  than 
Hamilcar,  the  leader  of  the  Carthaginians?  Although  all 
during  the  battle  he  stood  between  the  fighting  ranks  and 
offered  sacrifice,  when  he  saw  that  his  side  was  conquered  he 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  5 1 

threw  himself  Into  the  very  fires  which  he  was  feeding,  so 
that  he  might  extinguish  with  his  own  body  the  fires  which 
he  knew  were  of  no  avail. 

What  shall  I  say  of  Julian?  When  he  foolishly  trusted  the 
responses  of  the  soothsayers,  he  destroyed  his  own  means  of 
retreat.  Therefore,  in  similar  cases  there  is  not  a  similar 
offense,  for  our  promises  have  not  deceived  anyone. 

I  have  answered  those  who  provoked  me  as  though  I  had 
not  been  provoked,  for  my  object  was  to  refute  the  appeal, 
not  to  expose  superstition.  But  let  their  very  appeal,  O 
Emperor,  make  you  more  cautious.  After  saying  that  of 
former  princes,  the  earlier  ones  practiced  the  cult  of  their 
fathers,  and  the  later  ones  did  not  abolish  them,  it  was 
claimed  in  addition  that  if  the  religious  practice  of  older 
princes  did  not  set  a  pattern,  the  act  of  overlooking  them  on 
the  part  of  the  later  ones  did.  This  showed  plainly  what  you 
owe  to  your  faith,  that  you  should  not  follow  the  pattern  of 
heathen  rites,  and  to  your  affection,  that  you  should  not  set 
aside  the  decrees  of  your  brother.  If  in  their  own  behalf  only 
they  have  praised  the  permission  of  those  princes  who, 
although  they  were  Christians,  did  not  abolish  the  heathen 
decrees,  how  much  more  ought  you  to  defer  to  your  brotherly 
affection,  so  that  you  who  must  overlook  some  things,  even 
though  you  do  not  approve  them,  should  not  abrogate  your 
brother's  decrees;  you  should  maintain  what  you  judge  to  be 
in  agreement  with  your  own  faith  and  the  bond  of  brother- 
hood. 


52  SAINT  AMBROSE 

9.  To  the  most  dement  Emperor  and  most  blessed  Valentinian 
Augustus,  Ambrose,   bishop  (February,  386) 

Alleging  that  he  was  acting  at  your  command,  the  tribune 
and  notary  Dalmatius  came  to  me  and  asked  that  I  choose 
judges  just  as  Auxentius  has  done.  Yet  he  has  not  indicated 
the  names  of  those  who  have  been  demanded.  But  he  adds 
that  there  will  be  a  discussion  in  the  consistory,  and  the 
judgment  of  your  Piety  will  be  the  deciding  factor. 

To  this  I  am  making,  as  I  think,  a  suitable  response.  No 
one  should  find  that  I  am  being  insolent  when  I  assert  that 
your  father  of  august  memory  not  only  gave  his  answer  by 
word  of  mouth,  but  sanctioned  by  law  this  truth:  In  a 
matter  of  faith  or  of  any  Church  regulation  the  decision 
should  be  given  by  him  who  is  neither  unsuitcd  to  the  task 
nor  disqualified  by  law.  These  are  the  words  of  his  decree; 
in  other  words,  he  wished  priests  to  make  judgments  regarding 
priests.  In  fact,  if  a  bishop  were  accused  of  any  charge  and 
the  case  of  his  character  needed  to  be  examined,  he  wished 
these  matters  to  belong  to  the  judgment  of  bishops. 

Who,  then,  has  given  your  Clemency  an  insolent  answer? 
One  who  wishes  you  to  be  like  your  father,  or  one  who  wishes 
you  to  be  unlike  him?  Perhaps  little  importance  is  attached 
by  some  persons  to  the  opinion  of  that  great  emperor, 
although  his  faith  was  proved  by  his  firm  confession  and  his 
wisdom  was  declared  by  his  development  of  a  better  common- 
wealth. 

O  most  clement  Emperor,  when  have  you  heard  the  laity 
judge  a  bishop  in  a  matter  of  faith?  Are  we  so  bent  down 
with  flattery  as  to  forget  our  priestly  privileges  and  think 
that  we  should  entrust  to  others  that  which  God  has  given  to 
us?  If  a  bishop  has  to  be  instructed  by  a  layman,  what  next? 
If  so,  the  laity  will  dispute  and  the  bishop  will  listen ;  and  the 
bishop  will  learn  from  the  laity!  But  if  we  examine  the 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  53 

context  of  holy  Scripture  or  of  times  past,  who  will  deny 
that  in  a  matter  of  faith,  in  a  matter,  I  say,  of  faith,  bishops 
usually  judge  Christian  emperors;  not  emperors,  bishops. 

By  God's  favor  you  will  reach  a  ripe  old  age,  and  then  you 
will  realize  what  kind  of  a  bishop  subjects  his  priestly  power 
to  the  laity.  By  God's  favor  your  father,  a  man  of  ripe  old 
age,  said:  'It  does  not  belong  to  me  to  judge  between 
bishops';1  your  Clemency  now  says:  CI  must  be  the  judge.' 
He,  although  baptized,  thought  he  was  unfit  for  the  burden 
of  such  a  judgment;  your  Clemency,  who  must  still  earn  the 
sacrament  of  baptism,  takes  to  yourself  a  judgment  concerning 
faith,  although  you  are  unacquainted  with  the  sacraments  of 
that  faith. 

We  can  well  imagine  what  sort  of  judges  he  [Auxentius] 
will  choose,  for  he  fears  to  reveal  their  names.  Of  course, 
let  them  come  to  the  church,  if  there  are  any  to  come.  Let 
them  listen  to  the  people,  not  so  that  each  may  sit  in 
judgment,  but  that  each  may  have  proof  of  his  disposition 
and  choose  whom  he  will  follow.  The  matter  concerns  the 
bishop  of  that  church;  if  the  people  decide  after  hearing  him 
that  he  argues  a  better  case,  let  them  follow  the  faith  he 
teaches.  I  shall  not  be  jealous. 

I  will  not  mention  the  fact  that  the  people  have  already 
passed  judgment.  I  am  silent  about  their  demand  from  the 
father  of  your  Clemency  for  the  one  whom  they  have.2  I 
am  silent  about  the  promise  of  the  father  of  your  Piety  that 
there  would  be  peace  if  the  one  chosen  would  assume  the 
bishopric.  I  have  kept  faith  in  these  promises. 

If  he  boasts  of  the  approval  of  some  foreigners,  let  him 
be  bishop  there  where  there  are  people  who  think  that  he 

1  Valentinian,   who   began   his   reign   in   364,   made   a   practice   of   not 
interfering  with  the  bishops  in  matters  of  faith. 

2  Ambrose  had  been  promised   that  he  would  not  be  harassed  by  the 
Arians  if  he  accepted  the  bishopric  of  Milan.  He  certainly  had  been 
unwilling  to  become  a  bishop.  Cf.  Paulinus,  Vita  Ambrosii  3.7-9. 


54  SAINT  AMBROSE 

should  be  given  the  name  of  bishop.  But  I  neither  recognize 
him  as  a  bishop  nor  know  whence  he  comes. 

When  have  we  ever  decided  a  matter  on  which  you  have 
declared  your  judgment?  Nay,  have  you  not  even  promulgated 
laws  and  not  allowed  anyone  freedom  of  judgment?  When 
you  made  such  a  provision  for  others,  you  also  made  it  for 
yourself.  An  emperor  passes  laws  which  he  first  of  all  keeps. 
Do  you  want  me  to  try  to  see  whether  those  who  have  been 
chosen  judges  will  begin  to  go  contrary  to  your  opinion,  or 
at  least  excuse  themselves  on  the  grounds  that  they  cannot 
act  against  so  severe  and  rigid  a  law  of  the  emperor? 

This,  then,  is  the  action  of  an  insolent  individual,  not 
of  a  well-meaning  bishop.  See,  O  Emperor,  you  are  rescinding 
your  own  law  in  part.  Would  that  you  did  so,  not  in  part, 
but  entirely,  for  I  would  not  want  your  law  to  be  above  the 
law  of  God.  God's  law  teaches  us  what  we  are  to  follow; 
man's  laws  cannot  teach  us  this.  These  alter  the  conduct  of 
the  timid;  they  are  unable  to  inspire  confidence. 

What  man  will  there  be  who  reads  that  at  one  moment  it 
has  been  decreed  that  one  who  opposes  the  emperor  should 
be  struck  with  the  sword,  and  whoever  does  not  hand  over 
the  temple  of  God  is  straightway  slain;  what  man,  I  say, 
either  singly  or  with  a  few  could  say  to  the  emperor:  Tour 
law  does  not  meet  my  approval'?  If  priests  are  not  allowed 
this,  are  the  laity  permitted?  And  will  he  be  the  judge  in  a 
matter  of  faith  who  either  hopes  for  favor  or  fears  to  give 
offence? 

Shall  I  agree  to  choose  laymen  as  judges,  who,  if  they 
maintain  the  truth  with  faith,  will  be  proscribed  or  killed, 
because  a  law  passed  about  faith  has  so  decreed?  Shall  I 
expose  these  men  either  to  the  denial  of  truth  or  to  punish- 
ment? 

Ambrose  is  not  worth  so  much  that  he  would  throw  away 
his  priestly  office  for  his  own  sake.  The  life  of  one  man  is  not 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  55 

worth  the  dignity  of  all  priests  on  whose  advice  I  made  these 
statements,  since  they  suggested  that  we  would  perhaps 
surrender  the  triumph  of  Christ  to  some  pagan  or  Jew, 
chosen  by  Auxentius,  if  we  gave  them  judgment  regarding 
Christ.  What  else  do  they  rejoice  to  hear  but  the  harm  being 
done  to  Christ?  What  else  can  please  them  except  that  (God 
forbid ! )  Christ's  divinity  is  being  denied?  Plainly,  they  agree 
completely  with  the  Arians,  who  say  that  Christ  is  a  creature, 
for  heathens  and  Jews  readily  admit  this. 

This  decree  was  made  at  the  Synod  of  Ariminium  and  I 
rightfully  despise  that  council,  for  I  follow  the  rule  of  the 
Council  of  Nicaea  from  which  neither  death  nor  the  sword 
can  separate  me.  This  is  the  creed  which  the  parent  of  your 
Clemency,  Theodosius  most  blessed  emperor,  follows  and 
approves.  This  creed  is  held  by  the  Gauls,  it  is  held  by  the 
Spaniards,  who  keep  it  with  pious  profession  of  the  Holy  Spirit. 

If  there  must  be  discussion,  I  have  learned  from  my 
predecessor  to  have  the  discussion  in  church.  If  there  has  to 
be  a  conference  about  the  faith,  it  should  be  a  conference  of 
bishops,  as  was  done  under  Constantine,  prince  of  august 
memory,  who  promulgated  no  laws  until  he  had  given  free 
judgment  to  the  bishops.  This  was  also  done  under  Con- 
stantius,  emperor  of  august  memory,  heir  of  his  father's 
dignity.  Yet,  what  began  well  is  ending  otherwise.  The  bishops 
had  subscribed  at  first  to  a  definite  creed.  Then,  when  certain 
persons  within  the  palace  wished  to  pass  judgment  on  the 
faith,  they  managed  to  alter  the  judgments  of  the  bishops  by 
surreptitious  methods.  The  bishops  at  once  called  for  resolute 
opinions.  And,  certainly,  the  greater  number  at  Ariminium 
approved  the  creed  of  the  Council  of  Nicaea  and  condemned 
the  Arian  decrees. 

If  Auxentius  appeals  to  a  synod  to  dispute  the  faith  (please 
God  it  may  not  be  necessary  for  so  many  bishops  to  be 
wearied  on  account  of  one  man,  for,  even  if  he  were  an 


56  SAINT  AMBROSE 

angel  from  heaven,  he  must  not  be  esteemed  above  the 
peace  of  the  Church),  when  I  shall  hear  that  the  synod  is 
gathering,  I  myself  will  not  be  missing.  Pass  the  law  if  you 
want  a  struggle! 

I  would  have  come,  O  Emperor,  to  your  Clemency's 
consistory  to  make  these  remarks  in  person  if  either  the 
bishops  or  people  had  permitted  me,  but  they  said  rather 
that  discussions  of  the  faith  should  be  held  in  church  in  the 
presence  of  the  people. 

Would,  O  Emperor,  that  you  had  not  sentenced  me  to  go 
wherever  I  wished!  I  went  out  daily;  no  one  guarded  me. 
You  should  have  dispatched  me  where  you  wished,  me  who 
offered  myself  for  anything.  Now  I  am  told  by  the  bishops: 
It  makes  little  difference  whether  you  willingly  leave  the 
altar  of  Christ  or  hand  it  over,  for,  when  you  leave  it,  you 
will  be  handing  it  over. 

Would  that  it  were  clearly  evident  to  me  that  the  Church 
would  not  be  handed  over  to  the  Arians!  I  would  then 
willingly  offer  myself  to  the  wishes  of  your  Piety.  But,  if  I 
am  the  only  one  guilty  of  making  a  disturbance,  why  is  there 
the  decree  to  invade  all  the  other  churches?  Would  that 
there  were  the  assurance  that  no  one  would  harm  the 
churches!  I  choose  that  you  pass  on  me  whatever  sentence 
you  wish. 

Wherefore,  O  Emperor,  receive  with  dignity  my  reason 
for  being  unable  to  come  to  the  consistory.  I  have  not  learned 
to  take  rny  place  in  a  consistory  except  to  act  in  your  behalf ,3 
and  I  am  unable  to  dispute  in  the  palace,  neither  seeking 
nor  knowing  the  secrets  of  the  palace. 

I,  Ambrose,  the  bishop,  offer  this  notice  to  the  most  clement 
emperor  and  most  blessed  Augustus  Valentinian. ' 

3  Ambrose  had  gone  twice  to  the  Consistory  of  Maximus  and  bore  many 
affronts  while  there,  first  in  the  winter  of  383-381  when  he  pleaded 
for  peace  in  behalf  of  the  young  Valentinian,  and  later  at  the  begin- 
ning of  385  when  he  begged  that  the  body  of  Oratian  be  returned  tor 
burial  at  Milan. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  57 

10.  Ambrose  to  Emperor  Valentinian   (386) 

You  have  had  such  confidence  in  my  recent  embassy  that 
no  report  of  it  was  demanded  of  me.  It  was  sufficiently 
clear  from  my  having  stayed  some  days  in  Gaul  that  I 
did  not  accept  the  terms  favorable  to  Maximus1  or  agree 
with  those  which  favored  his  will  rather  than  peace.  More- 
over, you  would  never  have  sent  me  on  a  second  embassy 
unless  you  had  approved  the  first.  But,  inasmuch  as  I  was 
forced  to  the  necessity  of  contesting  with  him  on  my  arrival, 
I  have  determined  to  give  an  account  of  my  embassy  in  this 
letter  so  that  no  one's  report  will  confuse  the  false  with  the 
true  before,  on  my  return,  I  make  a  clear  and  trustworthy 
account  of  the  truth. 

The  day  after  I  arrived  at  Trier  I  went  to  the  palace. 
The  grand  chamberlain  Gallicanus,  a  royal  eunuch,2  came 
out  to  me.  I  asked  the  privilege  of  entering;  he  asked  if  I 
had  an  imperial  order  from  your  Clemency.  I  answered  that 
I  did.  He  retorted  that  I  could  be  interviewed  only  in  the 
consistory.  I  replied  that  this  was  not  customary  for  one  of 
episcopal  rank  and,  in  fact,  that  there  were  certain  matters 
of  which  I  had  to  speak  in  earnest  with  the  prince.  In  short, 
he  went  and  consulted  him,  but  maintained  that  the  condi- 
tions would  have  to  hold,  so  that  it  became  clear  that  even 
his  first  remarks  had  been  prompted  by  the  other's  wishes.  I 
remarked  that  it  was  not  in  keeping  with  my  office,  but  that 
I  would  not  fail  the  embassy  entrusted  to  me.  I  was  happy  to 
be  humbled,  especially  on  your  behalf  and  in  the  performance 
of  a  duty  which  involved  the  affection  you  bear  your  brother. 

As  soon  as  he  was  seated  in  the  consistory,  I  entered;  he 
arose  to  give  me  the  kiss  of  greeting;  I  was  standing  with  the 

1  Maximus  was  offering  peace,   but  only   on   the   condition    that   Val- 
entinian himself  come  to  Trier. 

2  praepositus  cubiculi. 


58  SAINT  AMBROSE 

members  of  the  consistory.  Some  began  urging  me  to  step 
forward;  he  began  summoning  me.  I  said:  'Why  would  you 
greet  with  a  kiss  one  whom  you  do  not  know?  If  you  knew 
me  you  would  not  see  me  here.'  'Bishop/  he  said,  'you  are 
greatly  upset.'  'Not  by  the  insult/  I  answered,  'but  by  the 
embarrassment  of  standing  in  a  place  where  I  do  not  belong.' 
'You  came  into  the  consistory,5  he  said,  'on  your  first 
embassy.'  That  was  not  my  fault,'  I  said,  'but  the  fault  of 
the  one  who  summoned  me;  I  merely  came  in  answer  to  the 
summons.'  cWhy  did  you  come?5  he  asked.  'Because,'  I 
replied,  cat  that  time  I  was  asking  for  peace  for  one  who 
was  weaker  than  you,  but  I  do  so  now  for  one  who  is  your 
equal.'  'Equal  by  whose  kindness?'  he  asked.  "That  of 
almighty  God,'  said  I,  ;for  He  preserved  for  Valentinian  the 
kingdom  He  had  given  him.J 

At  length  he  broke  forth,  saying:  'You  and  that  Bauton 
have  tricked  me.  He  wanted  to  get  the  power  for  himself 
under  the  figurehead  of  a  child,  and  he  sent  barbarians 
against  me !  As  if  I  do  not  have  just  as  many  thousands  of 
barbarians  in  my  service  and  in  my  pay  whom  I  can  call 
upon.  Had  I  not  been  restrained  from  doing  so  at  your 
coming,  who  would  have  been  able  to  withstand  me  or  my 
forces?' 

To  this  I  replied  gently:  6You  need  not  be  angry;  there 
is  no  cause  for  alarm.  Listen  patiently  to  what  I  have  to 
say  to  your  remarks.  You  assert  that  while  you  trusted  me 
I  deceived  you  by  coming  and  taking  part  in  your  first 
embassy — a  glorious  accusation  that  I  was  safeguarding  the 
emperor  who  was  a  mere  child.  Whom  are  we  bishops  to 
guard  if  not  children?  It  is  written:  "Judge  for  the  fatherless, 
and  defend  the  widow,  and  free  the  one  receiving  harm*"3 
And  elsewhere:  "Defenders  of  widows  and  fathers  of  or- 
phans/'4 


3  Isa.   1.17. 

4  Ps.  67.6, 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  59 

'Still,  I  shall  not  censure  Valentinian  for  services  I  rendered 
him.  To  say  the  truth,  when  did  I  prevent  your  legions  from 
streaming  into  Italy?  With  what  cliffs  or  battlelines  or 
troops?  Or  did  I  block  the  Alps  with  my  body?  Would  that  I 
had  the  power!  I  would  not  have  feared  to  lie  in  your  way 
nor  would  I  have  dreaded  your  accusations.  With  what 
promises  did  I  trick  you  into  making  peace?  Did  not  Count 
Victor5  come  to  meet  me  near  Mayence  in  Gaul,  he  whom 
you  had  sent  to  make  peace?  In  what  way  has  Valentinian 
played  you  false,  for  he  was  asked  for  peace  before  he  asked 
it.  How  has  Bauton  played  you  false — by  showing  his  loyalty 
to  the  emperor?  Because  he  did  not  betray  his  lord? 

cHow  have  I  deceived  you?  On  my  arrival  you  said  that 
Valentinian  should  come  to  you  like  a  son  to  his  father.  I 
said  it  was  unreasonable  to  expect  a  boy  to  cross  the  Alps 
with  his  widowed  mother  during  the  roughest  part  of  winter. 
Moreover,  was  he  to  embark  on  the  hazards  of  such  a  journey 
without  his  mother?  I  was  sent  on  an  embassy  of  peace,  not 
to  promise  his  arrival.  It  is  clear  that  I  could  not  promise 
what  was  not  enjoined  on  me.  At  least  I  made  no  promise; 
therefore  you  said:  "Let  us  wait  and  see  what  reply  Victor 
will  make."  It  is  well  known  that  he  reached  Milan  while  I 
was  being  detained  [at  Trier],  and  his  request  was  refused. 
It  was  said  that  peace  was  the  only  issue,  not  the  return  of 
the  emperor,  who  was  not  to  be  moved  from  there.  I  was 
present  when  Victor  returned.  How,  then,  did  he  influence 
Valentinian?  The  legates  who  were  sent  again  and  said  that 
he  would  not  come  met  me  at  Valence  in  Gaul.  I  found 
soldiers  of  both  sides  guarding  the  mountain  heights.  What 
armies  of  yours  did  I  turn  from  you?  What  standards  have 
I  caused  to  leave  Italy?  What  barbarians  has  Count  Bauton 
brought  against  you? 

clf  Bauton,  who  came  from  across  the  Rhine,  had  done  so, 

5  Son  of  Maxiraus. 


60  SAINT  AMBROSE 

would  it  have  been  strange?  You  yourself  were  threatening 
the  power  and  boundaries  of  Rome  with  barbarian  troops 
and  squadrons,  with  men  to  whom  the  food  supplies  of  the 
provinces  went  as  tribute.  Note  the  difference  between  these 
threats  of  yours  and  the  mildness  of  the  august  child 
Valentinian.  You  were  intent  upon  coming  into  Italy  sur- 
rounded by  troops  of  barbarians.  Valentinian  made  the  Huns 
and  Alans6  who  were  approaching  Gaul  turn  back  to  the 
lands  of  the  Germans.  What  harm  if  Bauton  had  set 
barbarians  against  barbarians?  While  you  were  employing 
Roman  soldiers  and  he  opposing  those  attacking  him  on  either 
side,  the  Juthungi  were  laying  waste  the  Raetias  within  the 
the  very  heart  of  the  Roman  Empire.  For  this  reason  he  set 
the  Huns  against  the  Juthungi.  Yet,  because  the  Germans  were 
already  crushing  and  threatening  Gaul  with  approaching 
ruin,  he  was  forced  to  abandon  his  triumphs  lest  you  have 
ground  for  fear.  Compare  your  deeds  and  his.  You  made  the 
Raetias  subject  to  attack;  Valentinian  has  bought  peace  for 
you  with  his  own  money. 

cLook  at  the  man  on  your  right.7  Valentinian  sent  him 
back  to  you  in  honor,  although  he  had  the  opportunity  of 
avenging  a  personal  wrong.  He  had  him  within  his  own 
country  at  the  very  moment  when  his  brother's  death  was 
announced,  and  he  restrained  his  anger.  He  did  not  treat  in 
the  same  manner  one  who  is  of  different  dignity  but  of  the 
same  relationship  with  you.  Compare  your , conduct  with 
his.  You  be  the  judge.  He  gave  you  back  your  brother  alive; 
give  him  back  his,  even  though  dead.  How  can  you  refuse 
him  his  brother's  remains  when  he  did  not  refuse  those 
forces  that  were  used  against  him? 

6  The   Aicmanni,   a   tribe  of  Juthungi,   were   at   Maximus'    instigation 
raiding  Raetia.  To  get  rid  of  them,  Count  Bautou  invited  Huns  and 
Alans  to  raid  the  territory  of  the  Alemanni. 

7  Marceilinus,  the  brother  of  Maximus,  who  was  sent  back   to  Trier 
with  Ambrose. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  6 1 

£You  say  you  fear  to  arouse  the  sorrow  of  the  soldiers 
when  the  remains  are  returned.  This  is  your  excuse.  Having 
abandoned  him  alive,  will  they  now  defend  him  when  he  is 
dead?  Why  fear  one  who  is  dead,  whom  you  slew,  although 
you  could  have  saved  him?  I  killed  my  enemy,  you  say.  He 
is  not  your  enemy,  but  you  are  his.  He  no  longer  puts  up  a 
defense,  but  consider  why.  If  someone  began  plotting  here 
today  to  rob  you  of  your  lands,  would  you  say,  I  ask,  that 
you  were  his  enemy  or  he  yours?  If  I  am  not  mistaken,  the 
usurper  brings  war;  the  emperor  protects  his  rights.  Then 
why  refuse  to  part  with  the  remains  of  one  you  should  not 
have  slain?  Let  Emperor  Valentinian  have  his  brother's 
remains  as  a  pledge  of  your  peace.  And  how  can  you  keep 
alleging  that  you  did  not  give  the  order  to  slay  him  if  you 
do  not  allow  him  to  be  entombed?  Will  people  be  able  to 
believe  you  did  not  grudge  him  life,  when  you  grudge  him 
burial? 

'But  to  get  back  to  myself.  I  hear  that  you  are  charging 
that  the  people  who  were  with  Emperor  Valentinian  went 
over  to  Emperor  Theodosius.  What  did  you  expect  would 
happen  when  you  demanded  that  refugees  be  punished  and 
captives  slain,  while  Theodosius  enriched  them  with  favors 
and  granted  them  honors?'  'Whom  did  I  put  to  death?'  he 
asked.  'Vallio,'  I  answered.  'What  a  man,  and  warrior, 
besides!  Was  it  a  just  cause  for  his  murder  that  he  was 
faithful  to  his  emperor?'  'I  did  not  order  him  to  be  killed,' 
he  said.  'We  heard,'  said  I,  'that  such  orders  were  given.5 
'But,'  said  he,  'if  he  had  not  destroyed  himself,  I  did  order 
that  he  be  dispatched  to  Chalons  and  there  burned  alive.' 
'True,'  said  I,  'this  is  the  reason  you  are  thought  to  have 
killed  him.  Who  would  expect  to  be  spared  when  such  a 
vigorous  warrior,  so  loyal  a  soldier,  so  useful  a  count,  had 
thus  been  slain?'  I  then' departed  so  that  he  might  say  he 
would  consider  the  matter. 


62  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Later,  when  he  observed  that  I  stayed  aloof  from  the 
bishops  who  were  in  his  service  and  who  were  asking  that 
certain  persons,  heretics,  should  be  put  to  death,  he  became 
very  angry  and  ordered  me  to  leave  at  once.  I  went,  although 
several  thought  I  would  not  escape  his  ambushes.  I  was 
overwhelmed  with  sorrow  finding  that  the  old  bishop, 
Hyginus,  though  he  had  but  the  last  breath  of  life  left  in 
him,  was  being  sent  into  exile.  When  I  approached  some  of 
his  men  and  begged  them  not  to  allow  him  to  be  driven 
forth  without  clothing,  without  a  bed  to  lie  on,  I  was  myself 
driven  out. 

This  is  the  account  of  my  embassy.  Farewell,  O  Emperor, 
and  be  on  your  guard  against  a  man  who  is  cloaking  war 
under  the  mask  of  peace. 


1L  To  the  most  dement  Emperor  Eugenius,  Ambrose,  bishop 
(Summer.,  393) 

My  reason  for  leaving  [Milan]1  was  the  fear  of  the  Lord 
to  whom  I  direct  all  my  acts,  as  far  as  possible,  never  turning 
my  mind  from  Him  nor  considering  any  man's  favor  of 
more  worth  than  the  grace  of  Christ.  By  preferring  God  to 
everyone  else  I  harm  no  one,  and  trusting  in  Him  I  have  no 
fear  of  telling  your  majesties,  the  emperors,  what  I  feel  with 
my  own  conviction.  Thus  I  shall  not  refrain  from  saying  to 
you,  most  clement  Emperor,  what  I  have  never  refrained 
from  saying  to  other  emperors.  And  in  order  to  preserve  the 
order  of  events  I  shall  review  one  by  one  the  facts  which 
concern  the  present  difficulty. 

1  Ambrose  left  Milan  and  went  to  Bologna,  thence  to  Fieiun,  and 
finally  to  Florence.  Cf.  fit.  27,  where  a  portion  of  this  letter  is 
quoted  by  Paulinus.  The  letter  is  in  effect  an  implicit  notice  of 
excommunication  served  to  Eugenius  for  his  donations  to  the  upkeep 
of  pagan  tempi es. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  63 

The  most  excellent  Symmachus,  when  prefect  of  the  city,2 
appealed  to  Emperor  Valentinian  the  younger,  of  august 
memory,  begging  that  he  would  command  the  restoration  to 
the  temples  of  what  had  been  removed,  for  he  fulfilled  his 
obligations  in  accordance  with  his  own  wish  and  religious 
conviction.  It  was  also  fitting  that  I,  as  bishop,  should  know 
my  duties.  I  presented  two  petitions3  to  the  emperors  in 
which  I  declared  that  a  Christian  could  not  contribute  to 
the  upkeep  of  sacrifices;  that  I  had  not  proposed  that  they 
be  removed;  but  that  I  did  now  propose  they  should  not  be 
decreed ;  and,  finally,  that  he  would  seem  to  be  giving  rather 
than  restoring  contributions  to  the  images.  What  he  had 
not  withdrawn  he  could  not  be  said  to  be  restoring;  he 
seemed  rather  to  be  willingly  donating  money  for  the  cost  of 
superstition.  Lastly,  if  he  had  done  so,  he  either  must  not 
come  to  the  church,  or,  if  he  should  come,  he  would 
find  no  priest  or  one  withstanding  him  in  the  church. 
Nor  could  he  plead  the  excuse  that  he  was  only  a  catechumen, 
since  even  catechumens  are  not  allowed  to  contribute  to  the 
upkeep  of  idols. 

My  petitions  were  read  in  the  consistory  in  the  presence  of 
Count  Bauton,  a  man  of  the  highest  military  rank,  and  of 
Rumoridus,  of  the  same  dignity  and  devoted  from  early 
boyhood  to  the  heathen  religion".  Valentinian  then  listened 
to  my  suggestion  and  did  only  what  the  practice  of  our  faith 
demanded.  The  counts  acquiesced  to  their  lord.4 

Later,  I  openly  addressed  the  most  clement  Emperor 
Theodosius,5  and  did  not  hesitate  to  speak  to  him  face  to  face. 
And  when  he  received  word  of  the  same  sort  from  the  Senate, 
although  it  was  not  the  whole  Senate  that  made  the  demand, 

2  In  384. 

3  See  the  two  letters  to  Valentinian,  above. 

4  Wytzes'  emendation  of  a  troublesome  passage:   acquieverunt  comites 
domino  suo. 

5  In  390. 


64  SAINT  AMBROSE 

he  at  length  gave  approval  to  my  suggestion.  Then,  for 
some  days  I  did  not  go  near  him,  nor  did  he  take  it  amiss, 
because  I  was  acting  not  for  my  own  advantage  but  for  his 
profit  and  that  of  my  own  soul;  CI  was  not  ashamed  to  speak 
in  the  presence  of  the  king.'6 

Again  an  embassy  was  sent  by  the  Senate  to  Emperor 
Valentinian,  of  august  memory,  when  he  was  in  Gaul,7  but 
they  could  extort  nothing  from  him.  I  was  absent  at  the  time 
and  had  not  written  anything  to  him. 

But,  when  your  Clemency  assumed  the  government  of  the 
Empire,8  these  donations  were  found  to  have  been  made  to 
distinguished  citizens  of  the  heathen  religion.  Perhaps,  O 
august  Emperor,  it  may  be  said  that  you  yourself  did  not  make 
the  donations  to  the  temples,  but  merely  gave  benefits  to  men 
who  deserved  well  of  you.  But  the  fear  of  God,  you  know, 
ought  to  make  us  act  firmly  as  do  priests  in  the  cause  of 
liberty,  and  as  those  do  who  serve  in  your  armies  or  hold 
rank  among  the  provincials.  As  emperor,  you  asked  the 
envoys  to  make  restitution  to  the  temples,  but  you  did  not. 
Others  also  made  these  demands  and  you  withstood  them. 
Yet,  later,  you  decided  to  bestow  gratuities  on  the  petitioners 
themselves. 

The  imperial  power  is  great,  but  consider,  O  Emperor, 
how  great  God  is.  He  sees  the  hearts  of  all;  He  probes  their 
inmost  conscience;  He  knows  all  things  before  they  come  to 
pass;  He  knows  the  innermost  secrets  of  your  heart,9  You  do 
not  allow  yourself  to  be  deceived;  do  you  expect  to  hide 
anything  from  God?  Has  this  thought  not  occurred  to  you? 
Although  they  persisted  in  their  requests,  was  it  not  your 
duty,  O  Emperor,  out  of  reverence  for  the  most  high,  true, 

6  Ps.  118.46. 

7  In  391,  following  his  and  Theodosius"  joint  order,  forbidding  pagan 
sacrifices  and  visits  to  pagan  temples. 

8  In  August,  392. 

9  Cf.  Acts  1.24;  Dan.  13.42. 


LETTERS  TO  EMPERORS  65 

and  living  God,  to  oppose  them  still  more  persistently  and 
to  refuse  what  was  harmful  to  the  holy  law? 

Who  grudges  your  giving  to  others  what  you  choose?  We 
do  not  pry  into  your  benefactions,  nor  are  we  jealous  of  the 
privileges  of  others.  But  we  are  the  interpreters  of  the  faith. 
How  will  you  offer  your  gifts  to  Christ?  Few  will  respect 
your  actions;  all  will  respect  your  wishes.  Whatever  they  did 
will  be  to  your  credit;  what  they  did  not  do  will  be  to  theirs. 
You  are  indeed  the  emperor,  but  you  must  all  the  more 
submit  to  God.  Otherwise,  how  will  Christ's  priests  distribute 
your  gifts? 

There  was  question  of  this  kind  in  former  times,  and  then 
persecution  itself  was  overcome  by  the  faith  of  the  patriarchs 
and  paganism  gave  way.  When  that  game,  occurring  every 
fifth  year,  was  held  at  Tyre  and  the  wicked  king  of  Antioch 
had  come  to  see  it,  Jason  appointed  and  sent  messengers 
from  Jerusalem  to  bring  300  didrachmas  of  silver  and  give 
them  to  the  sacrifice  of  Hercules.10  The  patriarchs  would 
not  give  the  money  to  the  pagans,  but,  sending  trusted  men, 
they  asked  that  it  not  be  assigned  to  the  sacrifice  of  the  gods, 
for  it  was  not  needed,  but  be  deputed  to  other  expenses. 
And  it  was  decided  that,  because  Jason  had  stipulated  that 
the  money  be  sent  for  the  sacrifice  of  Hercules,  it  must  be 
used  for  that  purpose.  Yet,  when  those  who  brought  it 
pleaded  in  opposition,  in  their  zeal  and  devotion  insisting 
that  it  should  not  be  used  for  the  sacrifice,  but  for  other 
necessities,  the  money  was  given  over  to  the  building  of 
galleys.  Although  they  sent  the  money  under  force,  they  did 
not  use  it  for  the  sacrifice  but  for  other  public  expenses. 

Undoubtedly,  those  who  brought  the  money  might  have 
maintained  silence,  but  they  broke  their  trust  knowing  to 
what  their  action  was  leading.  So  they  sent  God-fearing  men 
to  use  their  effort  to  have  it  employed,  not  for  the  temple, 

10  Cf.  2  Mach.  41.18-20. 


66  SAINT  AMBROSE 

but  for  the  building  of  galleys.  They  entrusted  their  money 
to  men  who  would  plead  the  cause  of  divine  law,  and  He 
who  clears  the  conscience  was  made  judge  of  the  affair.  If 
those  who  were  under  foreign  power  took  such  precautions, 
there  is  no  doubt  concerning  what  you,  O  Emperor,  should 
have  done.  Since  no  one  constrained  you,  nor  had  you  in 
his  power,  you  ought  certainly  to  have  consulted  the  advice 
of  a  bishop. 

At  least,  when  I  withstood  you,  although  I  alone  withstood 
you,  I  was  not  the  only  one  to  wish  or  advise  this  course  of 
action.  Being  bound  by  my  words  before  God  and  men,  I 
knew  I  could  not,  must  not,  consult  anyone  but  myself,  for 
I  could  not  reasonably  trust  you.  For  a  long  time  I  stifled 
and  concealed  my  distress  and  determined  to  give  no  hint  to 
anyone,  but  now  I  may  no  longer  pretend,  nor  am  I  at 
liberty  to  be  silent.  This  is  why  at  the  beginning  of  your  reign 
I  made  no  reply  to  your  letters,  foreseeing  what  would  take 
place.  Afterwards,  when  you  found  I  was  not  writing  and 
you  demanded  a  reply,  I  said:  The  reason  is  that  I  think 
they  will  get  it  from  him  by  force.' 

Yet,  when  a  just  occasion  for  exercising  my  duty  arose,  I 
wrote  and  petitioned  for  those  who  were  worried  on  their 
own  account  to  show  that  in  the  cause  of  God  I  have  a  just 
fear,  and  I  do  not  value  flattery  more  than  my  own  soul 
And  in  matters  where  it  is  fitting  to  petition  you  I  show  a 
just  deference  to  your  authority,  as  it  is  written:  'Honor  to 
whom  honor  is  due;  tribute  to  whom  tribute/11  Since  I  am 
deeply  respectful  of  a  private  individual,  why  should  I  not 
be  so  of  the  emperor?  Just  as  you  wish  to  be  held  in  respect, 
allow  us  to  respect  Him  from  whom  you  would  like  to  prove 
that  your  authority  is  derived. 


11  Rom,  13.7. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS 


12.  Ambrose,,  bishop,  to  Brother  Anysius1   (383) 

HAVE  BEEN  quite  sure  for  a  long  time  of  what  I  have 
just  now  read;  you  were  mine  by  your  deeds  even 
though  I  had  not  laid  eyes  on  you.  I  grieve  over 
that  which  has  happened,  but  I  rejoice  over  the  later  happy 
succession  of  events.  I  did  not  wish  that  to  happen  while 
I  lived,  yet  I  did  hope  after  his  death  that  only  one  of  this 
merit  might  possibly  be  his  successor.  And  so  we  have  you, 
the  disciple  for  a  long  time  of  Acholius  of  blessed  memory, 
now  his  successor  and  the  heir  of  his  rank  and  of  his  grace. 
You  have  been  given  a  great  recompense,  brother,  and  I 
rejoice  on  your  account  that  there  was  not  a  moment's 
doubt  regarding  the  successor  of  one  so  great.  It  is  also  a 
great  burden,  brother,  to  support  the  weight  of  so  great  a 
name,  of  so  great  esteem,  of  so  great  a  scale.  Men  are  looking 
for  Acholius  in  you,  and  as  he  was  held  in  affection  by  you, 
so  in  the  performance  of  his  ministry  there  is  needed  a 
replica  of  his  virtue,  of  his  learning,  and  the  vigor  of  mind 
in  so  aged  a  body. 

1  The  successor  of  Bishop  Acholius. 

67 


68  SAINT  AMBROSE 

I  saw  him,  I  say;  and  I  owe  It  to  him  that  I  had  this 
glimpse  of  him.  I  saw  him  in  the  body  in  such  a  way  that  I 
thought  he  was  not  of  the  body;  I  saw  the  image  of  him 
[Paul]  who,  not  knowing  whether  in  the  body  or  out  of  the 
body,  saw  himself  raised  to  paradise.2  He  used  to  travel 
everywhere — on  frequent  trips  to  Constantinople,  to  Achaia, 
to  Epirus,  to  Italy — in  such  fashion  that  younger  men  could 
not  keep  up  with  him.  Men  of  more  sturdy  physique  yielded 
to  him,  for  they  knew  that  he  was  free  from  the  hindrance 
of  the  body;  he  used  his  body  only  for  a  covering,  not  an 
instrument,  surely  a  means  of  servitude,  not  of  companionship. 
He  had  exerted  such  influence  on  his  body  as  to  crucify  the 
world  in  it  and  himself  to  the  world. 

Blessed  was  the  Lord,  and  blessed  was  the  youth  of  this 
man  spent  in  the  tabernacle  of  the  God  of  Jacob,  living  in 
a  monastery  where,  to  his  parents  or  relatives  in  search  of 
him,  he  used  to  say:  £  "Who  are  my  brethren,  and  who  is 
my  mother?"3  I  do  not  know  my  father  or  mother  or 
brethren,  unless  they  are  those  who  hear  the  Word  and  keep 
it.'  Blessed  also  were  his  mature  years  when  he  was  raised  to 
the  office  of  high  priest,  deemed  worthy  of  an  early  recom- 
pense for  virtue.  He  came  like  David  to  restore  peace  to  the 
people;  he  came  like  the  ship  carrying  with  him  pure  gold, 
cedar  woods,  and  precious  stone,4  and  that  dove5  with  rings 
of  silver  with  which  amid  the  lots  he  slept  the  sleep  of  peace 
and  the  repose  of  tranquility. 

Sleep  is  the  workman  of  the  saints  according  to  what  has 
been  written:  £I  sleep  and  my  heart  watches/6  and  according 
to  holy  Jacob7  who  while  asleep  saw  divine  mysteries  which 

2  Cf.  2  Cor.  12.2. 

3  Matt.   12.18. 

4  Cf.  2  Par.  9.21. 

5  Cf.  Ps.  67.14. 

6  Cant.  5.2. 

7  Cf.   Gen.   28.13. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  69 

he  had  not  seen  when  he  was  awake — a  path  in  the  heavens 
for  the  saints,  leading  from  sky  to  earth,  and  the  Lord  looking 
down  upon  him  and  promising  him  the  possession  of  that 
land.  Asleep  in  this  way  for  a  short  while,  in  his  dream  he 
asked  and  obtained  what  his  descendants  later  acquired  with 
great  toil.  The  sleep  of  the  saints  is  free  from  all  pleasures  of 
the  body,  from  all  disturbance  of  the  mind;  it  brings  calm 
to  the  mind  and  peace  to  the  soul,  so  that,  released,  as  it 
were,  from  the  ties  of  the  body,  it  raises  itself  aloft  and  clings 
to  Christ. 

This  sleep  is  the  life  of  the  saints  such  as  blessed  Acholius 
lived,  whose  old  age  also  was  blessed,  for  old  age  is  truly 
venerable  when  it  grows  hoary  not  with  grey  hairs  but  with 
good  deeds.  This  hoariness  is  revered,  hoariness  of  soul, 
gleaming  with  shining  thoughts  and  deeds.  What  truly  is  old 
age  if  it  is  not  a  spotless  life8  which  is  measured  not  by  days 
or  months,  but  by  ages  whose  durability  knows  no  end,  whose 
longevity  knows  no  weakness?  The  older  it  is,  the  stronger  it 
is,  and  the  longer  he  has  lived  that  life,  the  more  vigorously 
does  he  grow  into  the  perfect  man. 

May  the  Lord,  therefore,  set  His  approval  upon  you,  his 
successor,  not  only  in  honor,  but  also  in  character,  and  may 
He  see  fit  to  establish  you  in  great  grace  so  that  to  you  also 
the  people  may  run  and  you  may  say  of  them:  'Who  are 
those  who  fly  about  like  clouds  and  like  doves  with  their 
young?59  Let  them  come,  too,  like  the  ships  from  Tharsis10 
and  bring  in  grain  which  the  true  Solomon  gives,  the  twenty 
measures  of  wheat.  Let  them  receive  oil  and  the  wisdom  of 
Solomon,  and  let  there  be  peace  between  you  and  your 
people,  and  may  you  guard  well  the  covenant  of  peace. 

Farewell,  brother,  and  love  us,  because  we  also  love  you. 

8  Ci  Wisd.  4.8,9. 

9  Isa.  60.8. 

10  Cf.  2  Par.  9.21. 


70  SAINT  AMBROSE 

13.  Ambrose  to  Brother  Candidianus1 

There  is  in  your  language  the  utmost  clarity,  but  it  shines 
even  more  in  your  love  for  me;  indeed,  in  your  letters  I 
behold  the  brilliance  of  your  mind,  dearly  beloved  and  most 
blessed  brother.  May  the  Lord  bless  you,  and  give  you  His 
grace,  for  I  see  in  your  letters  your  good  wishes  more  than 
my  own  excellence.  What  excellence  of  mine  could  compare 
with  your  language? 

Love  us,  brother,  because  we  love  you. 

14.  Ambrose  to  Chromatius  (c.  390 )l 

Does  God  tell  a  lie?  He  does  not;  it  is  impossible  for  God 
to  tell  a  lie.  Is  this  an  impossibility  because  of  some  weakness? 
Certainly  not!  How  could  He  be  the  cause  of  all  things  if 
there  were  something  which  He  could  not  cause?  What,  then, 
is  impossible  to  Him?  Not  what  is  difficult  for  His  power, 
but  what  is  contrary  to  His  nature.  It  is  impossible,  it  is 
said,  for  Him  to  tell  a  lie.  The  impossibility  comes,  not  from 
weakness,  but  from  His  power  and  greatness,  for  truth  admits 
of  no  lie,  nor  God's  power  of  the  fault  of  inconstancy,  for 
£God  is  true,  and  every  man  is  a  liar.5" 

Truth,  therefore,  is  always  in  Him;  He  remains  reliable; 
He  cannot  change  or  deny  Himself.  For,  if  He  says  He  is 
not  true,  He  tells  a  lie,  and  to  lie  belongs  not  to  power,  but 
to  weakness.  Nor  can  He  change  Himself,  because  His 
nature  admits  of  no  weakness.  This  impossibility  comes  from 

I  Undated. 


1  Intended  as  the  first  of  a  series  of  letters  to  Chromatius,  Bishop  of 
Aquileia,  of  which  this  is  the  only  one  extant. 

2  Rom.   3.4. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  7  1 

His  fullness  which  cannot  diminish  or  increase,  not  from 
weakness  which  is  powerless  in  that  which  increases  it.  Hence 
we  gather  that  this  impossibility  for  God  is  a  very  powerful 
attribute.  What  is  more  powerful  than  not  to  know  any 
weakness? 

Yet  there  is  a  weakness  in  God  which  is  stronger  than 
men,  and  a  foolishness  in  God  which  is  wiser  than  men.3 
The  one  is  the  foolishness  of  the  Cross,  the  other  of  His 
divinity.  If,  then,  His  weakness  is  power,  how  is  His  power 
weakness?  Let  us  keep  in  mind  that  God  does  not  deceive. 

There  is  no  diviner  in  Israel,  in  accordance  with  the  law 
of  God.1  How,  then,  does  Balaam  say  he  was  prevented  by 
the  oracle  of  God  from  going  to  curse  the  people  of  Israel? 
Yet  he  went  and  an  angel  of  the  Lord  met  him  who  told 
him  to  go  no  farther  and  stood  in  the  path  of  the  ass  which 
he  was  riding.  Nonetheless,  the  angel  himself  did  tell  him  to 
proceed  and  to  speak  only  what  was  put  in  his  mouth.  If 
there  was  no  soothsayer  in  Israel,  whence  came  the  oracle  of 
God  which  disclosed  the  future  to  one  who  was  a  soothsayer? 
If  he  spoke  as  the  mouthpiece  of  God,  whence  had  he  derived 
the  privilege  of  divine  inspiration? 

But  do  not  be  surprised  that  the  diviner  was  inspired  by 
the  Lord  what  to  say,  since  you  read  in  the  Gospel  that  it 
was  granted  the  chief  of  the  synagogue,  one  of  Christ's 
persecutors,  to  prophesy  that  one  man  should  die  for  the 
people.5  In  him  was  not  the  gift  of  prophecy,  but  the  state- 
ment of  a  truth,  so  that  even  by  the  witness  of  enemies  the 
truth  might  be  declared  and  the  treachery  of  unbelievers 
refuted  even  by  the  words  of  their  own  diviners.  In  fact, 
Abraham,  a  Chaldean,  was  brought  to  the  faith  to  put  to 

3  Cf.    1   Cor.   1.25. 

4  Cf.  Deut.   18.10. 

5  Cf.  John  11.50. 


72  SAINT  AMBROSE 

silence  the  superstition  of  the  Chaldeans.  It  is  not,  then,  the 
merit  of  the  one  who  confesses,  but  the  mouthpiece  of  the 
one  who  calls,  the  grace  of  God,  who  makes  the  revelation. 

Was  it  not  Balaam's  guilt  that  he  said  one  thing  and 
planned  another,  whereas  God  demands  a  clean  vessel,  not 
one  soiled  with  uncleanness?  Balaam,  therefore,  was  tried 
and  was  not  found  worthy,  for  he  was  full  of  guile  and 
deceit.  Moreover,  when  he  inquired  whether  he  should  go  to 
the  vain  people  and  was  forbidden,  he  made  an  excuse  to 
go.  When  other  more  honorable  messengers  came,  asking 
him,  he  should  have  refused,  but  attracted  by  greater 
promises  and  more  numerous  gifts6  he  decided  he  should 
again  inquire  [of  God]  as  if  God  would  be  influenced  by 
money  or  gifts. 

He  received  a  miser's  answer,  not  that  of  one  seeking  the 
truth,  so  that  he  was  mocked  rather  than  given  information. 
He  set  out;  an  angel  met  him  in  a  narrow  place,7  and 
revealed  himself  to  the  ass,  not  to  the  diviner.  He  revealed 
himself  to  the  one;  he  scorned  the  other.  Then,  that  Balaam 
might  recognize  him  for  some  little  while,  the  angel  opened 
his  eyes.  He  saw  and  still  did  not  trust  the  plain  oracle,  and, 
though  he  should  have  trusted  his  eyes,  he  gave  doubtful 
and  confusing  answers. 

Then  the  Lord,  being  angry,  said  through  the  angel: 
4  "Go  and  speak  what  I  shall  command  you,"8  that  is,  not 
what  you  wish,  but  what  you  are  forced  to  say.  You  will 
furnish  your  tongue,  as  an  empty  instrument,  for  my  words. 
It  is  I  who  speak,  you  only  echo  what  you  hear  and  do  not 
understand.  You  will  accomplish  nothing  by  going,  for  you 
will  return  without  a  reward  of  money  and  without  the 

6  Cf.  Num.  22.19. 

7  Cf.  Num.  22.22,23. 

8  Num.  22.35. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  73 

profit  of  grace.5  His  first  words  were:  cHow  shall  I  curse 
him  whom  God  hath  not  cursed?'9  to  show  that  the  blessing 
of  the  Hebrew  people  depended  not  on  his  will  but  on  the 
grace  of  God. 

'I  shall  see  them,'  he  says,  'from  the  tops  of  the  mountains,10 
since  I  cannot  with  my  vision  embrace  this  people  which  will 
dwell  apart,  marking  their  boundaries  not  by  their  ownership 
of  places,  but  by  the  indwelling  of  virtues,  and  by  the 
perfection  of  their  character  which  will  make  them  live  for 
everlasting  ages.  Which  of  the  neighboring  nations  will  be 
numbered  with  this  one,  for  it  far  surpasses  their  fellowship? 
Who  can  understand  the  nature  of  its  foundation,  for  we 
see  that  the  bodies  of  its  citizens  are  compounded  and 
fashioned  from  human  seeds,  but  their  souls  spring  from 
higher,  more  marvelous  seeds? 

*  "Let  my  soul  die  with  their  souls,"11  die  to  this  bodily 
life  that  among  the  souls  of  the  just  it  may  attain  the  grace 
of  that  eternal  life.'  Herein  was  revealed  already  the  excellence 
of  the  heavenly  sacrament  and  of  the  holy  baptism  by  whose 
operation  men  die  to  original  sin  and  the  works  of  the  unjust, 
that,  being  transformed  in  newness  of  life  into  fellowship  with 
the  just,  they  may  rise  again  to  the  just  man's  way  of  life. 
And  why  is  it  strange  that  when  they  die  to  sin  they  live  to 
God? 

When  Balak  heard  this  he  was  angry  and  said :  CI  brought 
you  here  to  curse  and  you  are  uttering  a  blessing.'  He 
answered:  'I  suffer  insult  for  what  I  know  not,  for  I  speak 
not  my  own  words,  I  merely  utter  sounds  like  a  tinkling 
cymbal.512  When  he  was  brought  to  a  second  and  a  third 
place,  although  he  wished  to  utter  a  curse,  he  continued  to 

9  Num.  23.8. 

10  Num.  23.9. 

11  Num.  23.10. 

12  Cf.  1  Cor.  13.1. 


74  SAINT  AMBROSE 

bless:  There  is  no  labor  in  Jacob,  no  sorrow.'13  The  Lord 
protected  him.  Then  he  commanded  seven  altars  and  sac- 
rifices to  be  made  ready.  Surely,  he  should  have  gone  his 
way,  but  his  weak  mind  and  changeable  notions  made  him 
think  he  could  alter  God's  will.  Being  in  a  trance,  he  kept 
desiring  one  thing  and  saying  another. 

'How  beautiful,'  he  said,  'are  thy  dwellings,  O  army  of 
Hebrews!  Thy  tabernacles  are  like  wooded  valleys,  as  a 
park  near  rivers,  and  as  cedars  by  the  waterside.  A  man 
will  go  forth  from  Jacob  and  will  take  many  nations,  and  his 
kingdom  will  be  lifted  on  high;  and  on  earth  he  will  spread 
his  kingdom  over  Egypt.  They  that  bless  him,  shall  be 
blessed,  and  they  that  curse  him,  shall  be  cursed."14  What 
people  does  he  mean  except  the  people  of  Christ?  God 
blesses  that  people  into  whose  heart  the  Word  of  God  come-; 
down  even  to  the  division  of  soul  and  of  joints  and  of 
marrow.15  Balaam  would  have  had  the  grace  of  God  in  him 
if  he  had  acted  according  to  the  interest  and  purpose  of  his 
heart.  But,  because  a  wicked  mind  is  bound  by  its  counsels, 
and  the  secrjts  of  the  soul  are  betrayed  by  events,  his  mind 
was  discovered  by  his  later  wicked  deeds. 

Therefore  he  received  a  reward  in  keeping  with  his  malice, 
for,  when  he  realized  that,  being  in  a  trance,  he  was  unable 
to  utter  a  curse,  he  told  the  king:  'Let  my  utterances  be  of 
things  which  God  has  commanded;  hear  now  my  counsel 
against  the  words  of  God.  This  is  a  just  people;;  it  enjoys 
God's  protection  since  it  has  not  given  itself  to  divining  and 
augury,  but  to  the  eternal  God  alone,  excelling  others  in 
faith.  Yet  sometimes  even  faithful  minds  fall  prey  to  the 
enticements  of  the  body  and  the  blandishments  of  beauty. 
You  have  many  women  here,  many  of  them  are  not  un- 

13  Cf.  Num.  23.21    (Septuagint) . 

14  Num.  24.5,6,9. 

15  Cf.  Heb.  4,12. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  75 

adorned  with  beauty.  Now  the  male  sex  is  led  astray  and 
captivated  by  nothing  more  quickly  than  by  a  woman's 
beauty,  particulary  if  by  frequent  conversation  the  love  of 
their  hearts  is  aroused,  set  afire  as  if  by  torches;  but  if  it 
clings  to  the  hope  of  enjoyment  it  keeps  its  feelings  pent  up. 
Let  your  women  cast  their  fishhooks  with  words,  let  them 
be  of  easy  access  at  first,  let  them  roam  about  exposed  to 
view,  affable  in  speech,  going  everywhere  about  the  camp. 
Let  them  draw  these  men  so  skillfully  that  they  allow  them 
no  intercourse  until  they  have  first  pledged  their  mutual  love 
by  participating  in  sacrilege.  Thus  will  they  be  deprived  of 
heaven's  protection  if  by  sacrilege  they  will  depart  from 
their  Lord  God.' 

In  advising  fornication  and  sacrilege,  Balaam  proved 
himself  unjust ;  even  in  the  Apocalypse  of  John  the  Evangelist 
this  is  plainly  written,  where  the  Lord  Jesus  says  to  the 
Angel  of  the  Church  of  Pergamum:  'Thou  hast  there  some 
who  hold  the  teaching  of  Balaam,  who  taught  Balak  to  cast 
a  stumbling  block  before  the  children  of  Israel,  that  they 
might  eat  and  commit  fornication.  So  thou  hast  also  some 
who  hold  the  teaching  of  the  Nicolaites/16  Hence  comes  the 
sacrilege  of  the  Manichaeans  and  of  Manasse,  who  mingle 
and  unite  sacrilege  with  impiety. 

God  was  not  unjust,  nor  was  His  opinion  changed,  for  He 
detected  Balaam's  mind  and  the  secrets  of  his  heart,  and  He 
tested  him  as  a  diviner,  but  He  did  not  choose  him  as  a 
prophet.  Surely,  he  ought  to  have  been  converted  by  the 
grace  of  those  great  oracles  and  by  the  sublimity  of  the 
revelation,  but  his  mind,  full  of  wickedness,  uttered  words 
but  did  not  attain  faith,  frustrating  by  its  counsels  what  it  had 
predicted.  Then,  because  he  could  not  gainsay  the  prophecy, 
he  suggested  fraudulent  ideas  which  tempted  but  did  not 
overcome  the  people  of  the  Jews.  By  the  righteousness  of  one 

16  Apoc,  2.14,15. 


76  SAINT  AMBROSE 

priest  all  the  advice  of  this  corrupt  man  was  undone/7  for 
it  was  much  more  wonderful  that  our  many  forefathers  could 
be  delivered  through  one  man  than  deceived  by  one, 

I  am  sending  your  holy  soul  this  little  work  in  response 
to  your  wish  that  I  make  some  compilations  from  the 
interpretations  of  earlier  writers.  I  have  presumed  to  write 
this  letter  in  a  friendly  style,  somewhat  reminiscent  of  the 
manner  of  the  patriarchs.  Provided  you  approve  their  flavor, 
I  shall  not  hesitate  later  on  to  send  you  others  of  this  kind. 
I  prefer  to  prate  of  heavenly  matters  with  you,  in  an  old 
man's  fashion,  which  in  Greek  is  called  meditating.  'Isaac 
was  gone  forth  into  the  field  to  meditate,'18  seeing  in  Rebecca's 
coming  the  mystery  of  the  future  Church.  Lest  I  give  the 
impression  of  having  lost  my  skill  in  writing — I  prefer,  I 
say,  this  prating  with  you  in  the  words  of  an  old  man 
instead  of  uttering  in  vehement  style  words  unsuited  to  our 
interests  or  strength. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 


15,  Ambrose  to  Constantius  (before  Lent,  379) 

You  have  entered  upon  the  office  of  bishop  and,  sitting  at 
the  helm  of  the  Church,  you  are  piloting  the  ship  in  the 
face  of  the  waves.1  Take  firm  hold  of  the  rudder  of  faith  so 
that  the  heavy  storms  of  this  world  cannot  disturb  you.  The 
sea  is  mighty  and  widespread,  but  do  not  fear,  because  'He 
hath  founded  it  upon  the  seas;  and  hath  prepared  it  upon 
the  rivers.'2  Therefore,  not  without  cause  does  the  Church 

17  Num.  25.11. 

18  Gen.  24.65. 


1  Cf.  Cicero  Epist.  ad  /am.  9,15.3:  sedebamus  enirn  in  pupfri  et  davum 
tenebarnus. 

2  Ps.  23.2, 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  77 

Df  the  Lord,  built  upon  the  rock  of  the  Apostles,  remain 
unmoved  amid  the  many  storms  of  this  world  and,  with  her 
Foundation  unshaken,  stand  firm  against  the  assaults  of  the 
seething  sea.3  She  is  lashed  by  waves,  she  is  not  shattered, 
and,  although  the  elements  of  this  world  often  beat  upon  her 
with  loud  crashing  sound,  she  has  a  place  where  she  receives 
those  in  distress,  the  well-guarded  harbor  of  salvation. 

Nevertheless,  although  she  tosses  on  the  sea,  she  rides  on 
the  floods;  see  that  she  rides  no  more  upon  those  floods  of 
which  it  is  said:  The  floods  have  lifted  up  their  voice.'4 
There  are  rivers  which  flow  from  the  belly  of  him  who 
drinks  from  Christ  and  partakes  of  the  Spirit  of  God.5 
These  rivers,  therefore,  when  they  redound  with  the  grace  of 
the  Spirit,  lift  up  their  voice.  There  is  also  a  stream  which 
overflows  upon  its  holy  ones  like  a  torrent.6  Likewise,  there 
is  a  stream  of  a  river  which  gladdens  the  peaceful  and 
tranquil  soul.7  Whoever  receives  of  the  fullness  of  this  stream, 
like  John  the  Evangelist,  like  Peter  and  Paul,  lifts  up  his 
voice.  Just  as  the  Apostles  with  the  harmony  of  their  message 
spread  the  sound  of  their  preaching  of  the  Gospel  to  all  the 
ends  of  the  earth,  so  also  does  he  begin  to  tell  the  good 
tidings  of  the  Lord  Jesus.  Drink,  then,  from  Christ  so  that 
your  sound,  too,  may  go  out. 

The  sea  is  holy  Scripture  which  has  within  it  profound 
meanings  and  the  mysterious  depths  of  the  Prophets.  Into 
this  sea  many  rivers  have  entered.  Delightful  and  clear  are 
these  streams;  these  fountains  are  cool,  springing  up  into 
life  everlasting;8  there,  too,  are  pleasant  words,  like  'honey- 

3  Cf.  Matt.  16.18. 

4  Ps.  92.3. 

5  Cf.   John  7.38. 

6  Cf.  isa.  66.12. 

7  Cf.  Ps.  45.5. 

8  Cf.  John  4.14. 


78  SAINT  AMBROSE 

comb/9  and  courteous  conversations  which  water  souls  with 
the  sweetness  of  moral  commands.  The  streams  of  holy 
Scripture  are  diverse;  you  know  that  which  you  should  drink 
from  first,  second,  and  last. 

Store  up  the  water  of  Christ,  that  which  praises  the  Lord.10 
Store  up  the  water  from  many  places,  the  water  which  the 
clouds  of  prophecy  pour  out.  He  who  gathers  water  from 
the  mountains  and  draws  it  to  himself,  or  drinks  from  the 
fountains,  he  himself  also  sheds  dew  like  the  clouds.  There- 
fore, fill  the  center  of  your  mind  so  as  to  have  your  plot  of 
land  moistened  and  watered  by  fountains  from  the  family 
estate.  Accordingly,  he  who  reads  much  and  also  understands 
is  filled;  he  who  has  been  filled  sheds  water  upon  others. 
So  Scripture  says:  'If  the  clouds  be  full,  they  will  pour  out 
rain  upon  the  earth.'11 

Therefore,  let  your  sermons  be  flowing,  let  them  be  clear 
and  lucid  so  that  by  suitable  disputation  you  may  pour 
sweetness  into  the  ears  of  the  people,  and  by  the  grace  of 
your  words  may  persuade  the  crowd  to  follow  willingly  where 
you  lead.  But  if  in  the  people,  or  in  some  persons,  there  is 
any  stubbornness  or  any  fault,  let  your  sermons  be  such  as 
to  goad  the  listener,  to  sting  the  person  with  a  guilty  con- 
science. 'The  words  of  the  wise  are  as  goads.'12  Even  the 
Lord  Jesus  goaded  Saul  when  he  was  a  persecutor.  Consider 
how  saltutary  was  the  goad  which  made  of  a  persecutor  an 
apostle,  saying:  clt  is  hard  for  thee  to  kick  against  the  goad.n:j 

There  are  also  sermons  like  milk  which  Paul  gave  to  the 
Corinthians;14  those  who  cannot  eat  strong  food  develop 
from  infancy  by  drinking  a  natural  milk. 

9  Cf.  Prov.  17.24. 

10  C£.   Ps.    145.5. 

11  Cf.  Eccle.  11.1 

12  Eccle.  12.11. 

13  Acts   9.5. 

H  Cf.   1   Cor.  3.2. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  79 

Let  your  exhortations  be  full  of  meaning.  Concerning  this 
Solomon  says:15  The  weapons  of  the  intellect  are  the  lips  of 
the  wise."  And  in  another  place:  'Thy  lips  have  been  bound 
for  wisdom/  that  is,  let  the  revelation  of  your  sermons  shine 
forth,  let  your  understanding  be  bright,  and  let  your  sermon 
by  itself  protect  itself,  as  it  were,  with  its  own  weapons,  and 
let  not  any  word  of  yours  go  out  in  vain  and  go  forth  without 
meaning.  Speech  is  a  bandage  which  ties  up  the  wounds  of 
souls,  and  if  anyone  rejects  this,  he  shows  his  despair  of  his 
own  salvation.16  Likewise,  with  those  who  are  vexed  by  a 
serious  sore,  use  the  oil  of  speech  that  you  may  soften  their 
hardness  of  heart;  apply  a  poultice;  put  on  a  bandage  of 
salutary  advice,  so  that  you  may  never  allow  those  who  are 
astray  or  who  are  wavering  regarding  the  faith  or  the 
observance  of  discipline  to  perish  through  loss  of  courage 
and  a  breakdown  of  activity. 

Warn  the  Lord's  people,  therefore,  and  beg  them  to 
abound  in  good  works,  to  renounce  vice,  not  to  enkindle  the 
fires  of  passion — I  shall  not  say  on  the  Sabbath,  but  in  every 
season.  Let  them  not  destroy  their  bodies;  let  there  be  no 
immorality  and  uncleanness  in  the  servants  of  God,  because 
we  are  the  servants  of  the  unspotted  Son  of  God.17  Let 
each  one  know  himself  and  possess  his  vessel,18  and  when  the 
soil  of  the  body  has  been  ploughed,  let  him  wait  for  the  fruit 
in  due  season,  and  let  his  land  not  bring  forth  thorns  and 
thistles,19  but  let  him,  too,  say:  'Our  earth  has  yielded  her 
fruit,320  and  in  the  once  thickly  wooded  frailty  of  passion  let 
there  flourish  ingrafted  virtues. 

Teach  and  instruct  them  to  do  what  is  good,  and  let  no 
one  interrupt  a  laudable  work  whether  he  is  being  seen  by 

15  Prov.  14.3;   15.5. 

16  Isa.    1.6. 

17  Cf.  Eph.  5.3. 

18  Cf.  1  Thess.  4.4. 

19  Cf.   Gen.   3.18. 

20  Ps.  84.13. 


80  SAINT  AMBROSE 

many  or  is  without  a  witness,  for  conscience  is  a  trustworthy 
security  for  him. 

Let  the  people  also  shun  evil  deeds,  even  though  they  do 
not  believe  they  can  be  found  out.  Although  men  are  enclosed 
in  the  house,  surrounded  by  darkness,  without  a  witness, 
without  an  accomplice,  they  have  the  Judge  of  their  deeds 
whom  nothing  deceives,  to  whom  all  deeds  cry  out.21  Each 
one  also  has  himself  and  his  soul  as  a  severe  judge  of  himself, 
as  an  avenger  of  wickedness,  a  vindicator  of  crime.  In  fear 
and  trembling  Cain  wandered  over  the  earth22  paying  the 
penalty  of  the  murder  of  his  brother,  so  that  for  him  death 
was  a  remedy,  for  it  set  free  the  wandering  exile  who  at 
every  moment  had  a  dread  of  death.  Let  no  one  either  alone 
or  with  another  do  anything  base  or  wicked.  And  if  anyone 
is  alone,  let  him  respect  himself,  rather  than  others,  himself 
whom  he  ought  especially  to  reverence. 

Let  your  people  not  desire  many  things,  for  the  reason 
that  a  few  things  are  many  to  them:  poverty  and  riches  are 
names  which  imply  want  and  satiety.  He  is  not  rich  who 
wants  anything,  nor  poor  who  does  not  want.  Let  no  one 
spurn  a  widow,  or  cheat  an  orphan,  or  defraud  his  neighbor. 
Woe  to  him  who  has  a  fortune  amassed  by  deceit,  and 
builds  in  blood23  a  city,  in  other  words,  his  soul.  For  it  is  this 
[the  soul]  which  is  built  like  a  city.24  Greed  does  not  build 
it,  but  sets  it  on  fire  and  burns  it.  Do  you  wish  to  build  your 
city  well?  'Better  is  a  little  with  the  fear  of  the  Lord  than 
great  treasures  without  fear.'2"*  The  riches  of  a  man  ought 
to  work  to  the  redemption  of  his  soul,  not  to  its  destruction. 
Wealth  is  redemption  if  one  uses  it  well;  so,  too,  it  is  a 
snare  if  one  does  not  know  how  to  use  it.26  For  what  is  a 

21  Cf.  Gen.  4.10. 

22  Cf.  Gen.  4.14. 

23  Cf,  Hab.  2.6. 

24  Cf.  Ps.  121,3. 

25  Prov.  15.16. 

26  Cf.  Prov.  13.8. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  81 

man's  money  if  not  provision  for  his  journey?  A  great  amount 
is  a  burden;  a  little  is  useful.  We  are  wayfarers  in  this  life; 
many  are  walking  along,  but  a  man  needs  to  make  a  good 
passage;  the  Lord  Jesus  is  with  him  who  makes  a  good 
passage.  Thus  we  read:  'When  thou  passest  through  the 
waters,  I  will  be  with  thee,  and  the  rivers  shall  not  cover 
thee,  nor  fire  burn  thy  garments  when  thou  shalt  walk 
through.'27  But,  one  who  keeps  a  fire  pent  up  in  his  body, 
the  fire  of  lust,  the  fire  of  immoderate  desire,  does  not  pass 
through  but  burns  the  covering  of  his  soul.28  A  good  name 
is  more  excellent  than  money,  and  above  heaps  of  silver  is 
good  favor.29  Faith  itself  redounds  to  itself,  sufficiently  rich 
and  more  than  rich  in  its  possession.  There  is  nothing  which 
is  not  the  possession  of  the  wise  man  except  what  is  contrary 
to  virtue,  and  wherever  he  goes  he  finds  all  things  to  be  his. 
The  whole  world  is  his  possession,  since  he  uses  it  all  as  his 
own. 

Why,  therefore,  is  a  brother  cheated?  Why  is  a  hireling 
defrauded?  The  gain  from  the  sale  of  a  harlot  is  not  great, 
he  [the  writer  of  Proverbs]  says;30  it  is  the  gain  of  fleeting 
frailty.  A  harlot  is  not  one's  own  possession,  but  a  public 
possession;  not  woman  alone  is  a  harlot,  but  every  wandering 
desire  is  a  harlot.  Every  act  of  faithlessness,  every  lie,  is  a 
harlot,  and  not  the  one  who  prostitutes  her  body,  but  every 
soul  which  sells  her  hope,  which  seeks  disgraceful  profit  and 
an  unworthy  reward.  We,  too,  are  hired  men  who  work  for 
a  price  and  hope  for  the  price  of  our  labors  from  our  Lord 
and  God.  If  anyone  wants  to  know  how  mercenary  we  are, 
let  him  hear  the  one  who  says :  'How  many  hired  men  in  my 
father's  house  have  bread  in  abundance,  while  I  am  perishing 
here  with  hunger!'  And  below:  'Make  me  as  one  of  thy 

27  Isa.  43.2. 

28  Cf.  Prov.  6.7. 

29  Cf.  Prov.  22.1. 

30  Prov.  6.20. 


82  SAINT  AMBROSE 

hired  men/31  All  are  hired  men,  all  are  laborers.  Let  the 
man  who  is  waiting  for  the  fruit  of  his  labor  consider  that 
he  who  defrauds  another  of  his  pay  will  himself  be  defrauded 
of  his  own.  In  lending  he  acts  unwisely  and  will  repay  later 
with  greater  measure.  Therefore,  let  one  who  does  not  wish 
to  lose  what  endures  forever,  take  not  from  another  what  is 
only  for  a  time. 

Let  no  one  speak  deceitfully  to  his  neighbor.  A  snare  is  on 
our  lips,  and  often  one  is  not  set  free  by  his  words  but  is 
ensnared.3-  The  mouth  of  one  speaking  ill  is  a  great  pit,  a 
steep  precipice  for  the  innocent,  but  steeper  for  one  of  ill- 
will.33  An  innocent  man,  though  easily  credulous,  falls 
quickly,34  but  when  he  has  fallen  rises  again.  The  slanderer 
is  thrown  headlong  by  his  own  acts,  from  which  he  will 
never  emerge  or  escape.  Therefore,  let  each  one  weight  his 
words  without  fraud  and  deceit;  CA  deceitful  balance  is  an 
abomination  before  the  Lord.'35  I  do  not  mean  that  balance 
which  weighs  out  another's  pay  (in  trivial  matters  the  flesh 
is  deceitful).  Before  God  that  balance  of  words  is  detestable 
which  simulates  the  weight  of  sober  gravity  while  practicing 
at  the  same  time  cunning  fraud.  God  condemns  especially 
the  man  who  deceives  his  neighbor  with  kind  promises  and 
overwhelms  his  debtor  with  treacherous  injustice.  He  will 
have  no  gain  from  his  clever  skill.  For,  what  does  it  profit 
a  man  if  he  gains  the  wealth  of  the  whole  world  but  defrauds 
his  own  soul  of  the  payment  of  eternal  life?36 

Pious  souls  must  consider  another  scale  by  which  the  deeds 
of  individuals  are  weighed,  in  which,  generally,  sins  are 
overbalanced  toward  judgment,  or  deeds  well  done  are  of 
more  weight  than  sins.  Alas  for  me  if  my  sins  are  heavy  and 

31  Luke  15.17,19. 

32  Cl   Frov.  6.2. 
3$  Cf.  Prov.  22.14. 

34  Cf.   Frov.    14.15. 

35  Frov.    ILL 

36  Cf.   Matt,    16,26. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  83 

incline  toward  a  decree  of  death  by  their  mortal  weight! 
More  tolerable  would  it  be  if  all  the  things  manifest  to  the 
Lord  came  to  pass,  even  before  my  judgment;  good  deeds 
cannot  be  concealed  nor  can  those  be  hidden  which  are  full  of 
offense.37 

How  happy  is  the  man  who  has  been  able  to  cut  out  the 
root  of  vices,  avarice.  Surely  he  will  not  dread  this  balance. 
Avarice  generally  dulls  men's  senses  and  corrupts  their  judg- 
ments,38 so  that  they  think  piety  a  gain,  and  money,  a  soil 
of  reward  for  sagacity.  But  great  is  the  reward  of  piety  and 
the  gaining  of  sobriety;  the  possession  of  these  virtues  is 
sufficient.  For,  what  do  superfluous  riches  profit  in  this  world 
when  they  do  not  assist  our  birth  or  impede  our  dying?  We 
are  born  into  this  world  naked,  we  leave  it  without  a  cent, 
we  are  buried  without  our  inheritance. 

Each  one  will  have  the  weight  of  his  good  deeds  hung 
in  the  balance,  and  for  a  few  moments  of  a  good  work  or  a 
degenerate  deed  the  scale  often  inclines  to  this  side  or  that. 
If  evil  inclines  the  scale,  alas  for  me;  if  good,  pardon  is 
ready  at  hand.  No  one  is  free  from  sin,  but,  when  good  deeds 
prevail,  the  weight  of  sins  is  lessened;  they  are  cast  into  the 
shadow  and  covered  up.  So,  in  the  day  of  judgment,  our 
works  will  either  succor  us  or  plunge  us  into  the  depths,  like 
men  weighted  down  with  a  millstone.  Iniquity  is  heavy, 
supported,  as  it  were,  on  a  talent  of  lead;39  avarice  is  hard 
to  carry;  so,  too,  all  pride  and  ignoble  fraud.  Urge  the 
people  of  the  Lord  to  hope  more  in  the  Lord,  therefore,  to 
abound  in  the  riches  of  simplicity,  in  which  they  may  walk 
without  a  snare,  without  hindrance.40 

The  guilelessness  of  plain  speech  is  also  good;  it  is  rich 
before  God,  even  if  it  walks  amid  snares,  for,  not  knowing 

37  Cf.    I    Tim.   5.24. 

38  Cf.  1  Tim.  6.10. 

39  Cf.  Zach.  5.7. 

40  Cf.  2  Cor.  8.2. 


84  SAINT  AMBROSE 

how  to  weave  snares  or  bands  for  another,  it  Is  not  bound. 

It  is  also  very  important  that  you  persuade  them  to  know 
how  to  be  humbled,  to  know  the  true  character  and  nature  of 
humility.  Many  have  the  appearance  of  humility,  but  they 
do  not  have  the  virtue.  Many  make  a  pretense  of  it  on  the 
outside,  yet  within  they  fight  against  it.  They  make  a  display 
of  it  for  pretense,  yet  reject  the  truth;  they  say  W  to  grace, 
for  There  is  one  who  humbleth  himself  wickedly  and  his 
interior  is  full  of  deceit/41  Such  a  person  is  very  far  from 
humility.  Humility  does  not  exist  except  without  pretense, 
without  fraud.  That  is  true  which  has  a  pious  sincerity  of 
soul.  Great  is  its  virtue.  Finally,  through  the  disobedience  of 
one  man  death  entered,42  and  through  the  obedience  of  our 
Lord  Jesus  Christ  was  wrought  the  redemption  of  all  men. 

Saintly  Joseph43  knew  how  to  be  humble.  When  he  was 
sold  into  slavery  by  his  brothers  and  purchased  by  mer- 
chants,44 bound  in  fetters,  as  Scripture  says,45  he  learned 
the  strength  of  humility,  he  scorned  frailty.  When  he  was 
bought  in  Egypt  by  an  official  of  the  royal  palace— a  man  in 
charge  of  the  household — although  he  knew  his  noble  lineage 
and  his  descent  from  the  sons  of  Abraham,  Joseph  did  not 
become  disgusted  with  his  lowly  condition,  unworthy  [as  he 
was  to  perform]  the  duties  of  a  servant.  Rather,  he  showed 
himself  diligent  and  faithful  to  his  master's  commands,  know- 
ing by  great  prudence  that  it  makes  no  difference  in  what 
condition  of  life  one  is  found  trustworthy,  but  that  the  pur- 
pose of  a  good  man  is  to  be  approved  in  any  condition,  and,  in 
particular,  that  character  dignifies  the  position  more  than 
position  the  character.  In  fact,  the  lower  the  status,  the 
more  outstanding  the  virtue.  He  proved  so  earnest  that  his 


41  Eccli.  19.23. 

42  CL   Rom.   5.19. 

43  Cf.  Gen.  39.1-12. 

44  Cf.  Gen.  37.28. 

45  Cf.   Ps.    101.18. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  85 

masier  entrusted  to  him  his  whole  house  and  committed  to 
him  all  his  goods. 

Then  the  wife  of  his  master  cast  her  eyes  upon  him, 
captivated  by  his  comeliness.  We  need  not  be  concerned 
whether  his  age  or  beauty  is  coveted  by  her  impure  glances : 
provided  these  be  artless,  there  is  no  crime  in  comeliness; 
provided  enticement  is  not  present,  seemliness  and  charm  of 
beauty  are  innocent.  This  woman,  deeply  aroused  and  mad- 
dened, accosts  the  young  man,  and  driven  on  by  lust,  over- 
come by  the  sting  of  passion,  admits  her  crime.  But  he 
disowns  any  wickedness,  saying  that  it  is  not  in  keeping  with 
the  custom  or  the  laws  of  the  Hebrews  for  those  to  violate 
the  stranger's  bed  who  have  the  duty  of  protecting  its  purity; 
that  the  chaste  spouse  may  be  joined  in  marriage  with  chaste 
maidens,  but  they  are  not  allowed  marriage  with  a  woman 
who  does  not  make  us£  of  her  legitimate  marriage  rights. 
Moreover,  he  is  bound  not  to  be  overcome  with  wanton 
intemperance  or  to  be  ungrateful  for  his  master's  kindness, 
nor  may  he  bring  deadly  injury  upon  one  to  whom  he  owes 
obedience. 

Was  he  ashamed  to  say  that  his  owner  was  a  despised 
person,  and  to  admit  that  he  himself  was  a  slave?  Nay,  even 
when  the  woman  strove  to  gain  him,  entreated  him  with  fear 
of  betrayal,  or  poured  out  passionate  tears  in  order  to  win 
him  by  force,  he  was  not  drawn  to  consent  to  the  crime 
through  a  sense  of  duty,  nor  compelled  by  fear,  and  he 
resisted  her  entreaties.  He  did  not  yield  to  her  threats, 
preferring  to  have  as  his  reward  honor  fraught  with  danger, 
a  base  remuneration  for  his  chaste  modesty.  Again,  beginning 
with  greater  inducements  when  she  saw  him  inflexible  and 
unmoved  by  her  second  attempt,  wild  with  passion,  her 
shamelessness  furnishing  strength,  the  woman  went  up  to 
the  young  man,  and,  catching  hold  of  his  garment,  dragged 
him  to  a  couch,  offering  her  embrace.  And  she  would  almost 


86  SAINT  AMBROSE 

have  succeeded  In  holding  him,  except  that  Joseph  tore  off 
the  garment  by  which  he  was  held,  lest  he  tear  off  the  cloak 
of  humility,  the  garment  of  purity. 

He  knew  how  to  be  humble,  for  he  was  humbled  even  to 
prison,  and  while  he  bore  this  outrage  he  preferred  to  submit 
to  a  false  charge  rather  than  to  bring  a  true  one.  I  say  he 
knew  how  to  be  humbled  for  the  sake  of  virtue.  He  was 
humbled  in  the  manner  of  Him  who  was  humbled  unto 
death,  even  to  the  death  of  the  Cross.46  He  was  to  conic  to 
arouse  this  life  of  ours  from  sleep,  and  to  show  _  that  our  use 
of  life,  in  which  there  are  various  sorts  of  vicissitudes,  was  a 
dream  with  nothing  solid  or  firm  therein,  as  in  sleep  we  see 
a  dream  but  do  not  see,  hearing  do  not  hear,  eating  are  not 
filled,  rejoicing  are  not  made  glad,  running  do  not  reach 
our  goal.  Vain  are  the  hopes  of  men  in  this  world  when  they 
think  they  must  attain  things  which  do  not  exist,  as  if  they 
did  exist.  So  the  empty  and  vain  appearances  of  things,  just 
as  in  sleep,  come  and  go.  They  stop  beside  us,  they  vanish. 
They  are  near  and  they  disappear.  They  seem  to  be  grasped 
but  they  are  not.  Finally,  when  one  hears  it  said:  "Awake, 
sleeper,"17  and  he  rises  from  his  dream  of  this  world,  he  knows 
then  that  everything  is  false.  He  awakes  and  his  dream  flees; 
he  loses  his  concern  over  an  inheritance,  over  the  charm  of 
beauty  and  the  desire  for  honors.  These  are  dreams  by  which 
those  are  undisturbed  who  watch  with  the  heart,  while  those 
who  are  asleep  are  disturbed. 

The  saintly  Joseph  provides  material  for  my  statement  that 
the  things  of  this  world  are  not  everlasting  or  even  of  long 
duration.  He  who  from  youth  was  of  noble  lineage,  rich  in 
his  possessions,  is  suddenly  a  lowly  slave,  and  to  further 
embitter  his  mean  estate  of  servitude  his  purchase  was  paid 
for  with  the  money  of  a  degenerate  master.  It  Is  considered 

46  Gf.   Phil.  2.8. 

47  Eph.  5.14. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  87 

less  disgraceful  to  be  the  slave  of  a  f reedman ;  slavery  is  twice 
servitude  when  one  is  the  slave  of  a  slave.  Joseph,  the  slave, 
was  nobly  born,  a  pauper,  richly  sired,  experiencing  instead 
of  love,  hatred,  instead  of  favor,  punishment,  dragged  time 
and  again  from  prison  to  palace,  from  criminal  charge  to 
seat  of  judgment.  Yet  he  was  not  broken  by  adversity  or 
carried  away  by  success.48 

That  the  turn  of  events  is  momentary  is  further  proved  by 
the  constantly  changing  fortune  of  blessed  David,  who  was 
an  object  of  scorn  to  his  father,  but  precious  to  God.  Noble 
in  triumph,  cheapened  by  envy,  called  to  a  kingly  ministry, 
loved  as  a  son,49  but  later  changed  in  appearance  and 
features,^0  fleeing  his  own  murderous  son,  he  used  to  deplore 
his  personal  offenses  and  atone  for  those  of  others,  more  noble 
in  winning  back  his  heir's  affection  than  if  he  had  disgraced 
him.  Having  experienced  all  this,  he  fittingly  remarked:  clt 
is  good  for  me  that  thou  hast  humbled  me.'51 

Yet,  this  saying  can  also  be  referred  to  Him  who,  being 
God  by  nature,  could  bend  the  heavens  without  effort,  but, 
coming  down  to  earth  and  taking  the  nature  of  a  slave,  bore 
our  infirmities,52  because  He  foresaw  that  His  saints  would 
not  think  it  fitting  to  claim  honors  due  to  themselves,  but 
would  submit  to  their  equals  and  prefer  others  to  themselves, 
He  said:  'It  is  good  for  me  that  thou  has  humbled  me.'  It 
is  good  for  me  that  I  have  brought  myself  down  so  that  all 
things  may  be  under  me,  and  God  may  be  all  in  all.53  Infuse 
this  humility  into  every  individual  soul,  and  show  yourself 
an  example  to  all,  saying:  cBe  imitators  of  me  as  I  am  of 
Christ.'54 


48  Cf.  Gen.  41,39-45. 

49  Cf.  1   Kings  18.3. 

50  Cf.  Virgil,  Aeneid  1.658. 

51  Ps.   118.71. 

52  Cf,   Phil.  2.6. 

53  Cf.   1   Cor.    15.27,28. 

54  1    Cor.    11.1. 


88  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Let  them  learn  to  search  for  the  riches  of  good  works  and 
to  be  rich  in  character.  The  beauty  of  riches  is  not  in  the 
purses  of  the  rich,  but  in  their  support  of  the  poor.  In  the 
weak  and  needy,  riches  shine  brighter.  Let  the  wealthy  learn 
to  seek  not  their  own  interests,  but  those  which  are  Christ's, 
so  that  Christ  may  search  for  them  to  bestow  His  possessions 
upon  them.  He  spent  His  blood  for  them;55  He  poured  out 
His  Spirit;  He  offers  them  His  kingdom.  What  more  will  He 
give  who  has  offered  Himself?  Or  what  is  the  Father  not 
going  to  give,  who  delivered  His  only-begotten  Son  to  death 
for  us?  Therefore,  admonish  them  to  serve  the  Lord  in  purity 
and  grace,  to  lift  up  their  eyes  to  heavenly  things  with  all 
the  intensity  of  their  minds,  to  count  nothing  as  gain  except 
that  which  is  for  eternal  life,  because  all  the  gain  of  this 
world  is  the  loss  of  souls.  Finally,  the  one  who  wished  to  gain 
Christ  suffered  the  loss  of  all  things,56  and  although  he 
spoke  wonderfully  well,  he  still  fell  short  of  expressing  what 
he  had  received,  for  he  spoke  of  things  which  were  not  his 
own;  but  Christ  has  said:  If  anyone  wishes  to  come  after 
me,  let  him  deny  himself/37  In  this  way  he  becomes  his  own 
loss,  that  he  may  become  .Christ's  gain.  All  such  possessions 
are  perishable,  accompanied  by  loss  and  without  gain.  There 
is  gain  only  where  there  is  everlasting  enjoyment,  where 
eternal  peace  is  the  reward. 

My  son,  I  am  giving  to  your  care  the  church  at  Forum 
Cornelius,58  so  that  by  reason  of  its  nearness  you  may  visit  it 
from  time  to  time  until  a  bishop  is  ordained  for  it.  I  cannot 
travel  such  a  distance,  because  I  am  occupied  with  tfie 
approaching  days  of  Lent. 

You  have  there  Illyrians,  imbued  with  the  false  teaching 

55  Cf.  Rom.  8.32. 

56  Cf.  Phil.  3.8. 

57  Luke  9.23. 

58  Modern  Imola. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  89 

of  the  Arians;  beware  of  their  cockle,  do  not  let  them  come 
near  the  faithful  or  insidiously  spread  their  false  seeds  of 
doctrine.  Let  the  faithful  take  note  of  what  has  happened 
to  them  because  of  their  perfidy;  let  them  be  quiet  so  they 
may  follow  the  true  faith.  With  difficulty  can  minds  imbued 
with  the  poisons  of  infidelity  be  delivered  from  their  impiety. 
And  if  the  virus  unfortunately  is  implanted  in  them,  do  not 
think  they  can  be  easily  trusted.  The  strength  and  power  of 
wisdom  is  not  to  be  trusted  rashly,  especially  in  the  matter  of 
faith,  which  is  rarely  perfect  in  man. 

Nevertheless,  if  you  find  one  tainted  with  this  dangerous 
doctrine  and  of  doubtful  disposition,  who  wishes  to  get  rid 
of  the  reputation  in  which  he  is  held,  permit  him  to  think 
that  he  has  made  satisfaction,  indulge  him  somewhat,  for  if 
satisfaction  is  not  allowed  a  person  his  mind  is  estranged. 
Even  skilled  doctors,  when  they  notice  the  signs  of  illness, 
do  not  immediately  upon  naming  them  administer  medicine, 
but  wait  for  the  proper  time  for  dispensing  it.  They  do  not 
give  up  the  patient,  but  with  words  or  with  what  ointments 
they  can  use,  they  soothe  him  so  that  the  neglected  illness 
may  not  grow  worse  through  a  loss  of  spirit,  or  the  patient, 
being  sick  to  his  stomach,  spit  out  the  medicine;  if  a  phy- 
sician inexperienced  in  matters  of  this  kind  treat  the  illness 
prematurely,  it  will  never  be  able  to  come  to  a  head.  So 
also  an  unripe  apple  quickly  rots  if  it  is  shaken  from  a  tree. 

Continuing  our  figure  from  agriculture,  teach  your  people 
to  keep  sacred  their  boundary  laws,  to  guard  their  fathers' 
boundary  stones  which  the  law  will  protect.59  The  good  favor 
of  a  neighbor  is  frequently  of  more  value  than  the  love  of 
one's  brother.00  A  brother  is  often  far  away;  a  neighbor  is 
near,  a  witness  of  a  whole  life,  the  judge  of  daily  living. 

59  A   reference   to   boundary   laws;    Cf.   Daremberg-Saglio,   art.,   'Finium 
regundorum  actio/  II.2  1140-1141. 

60  CC.   Dent.    19.14. 


90  SAINT  AMBROSE 

One  should  be  glad  to  have  Ms  neighbor's  flock  wander 
freely  through  the  nearby  open  spaces  and  lie  on  the  green 
grass,61  taking  its  rest  without  a  care.62 

Let  the  master  also  keep  his  slaves  subdued  by  the  law  of 
slavery  instead  of  by  control  of  force,  treating  them  as 
kindred  souls.  For  he  is  called  paterfamilias  so  that  he  may 
govern  them  as  sons;  and  he  himself  is  a  slave  of  God  and 
calls  the  Lord  of  heaven  Father,  the  Ruler  of  all  the  powers. 

Farewell,  and  love  us  as  you  do,  for  we  love  you. 


16.  Ambrose  to  Constantius1 

Many  persons  are  disturbed  over  the  question,  not  by  any 
means  unimportant,  why  circumcision  should  have  been 
made  of  obligation  under  the  ruling  of  the  Old  Testament, 
and  set  aside  as  useless  by  the  teaching  of  the  New  Testa- 
ment,2 especially  since  it  was  Abraham  who  first  received 
the  command  to  observe  the  rite  of  circumcision,3  he  who 
saw  the  day  of  the  Lord  and  was  glad.4  It  is  certainly  evident 
that  he  was  considering  not  the  physical,  but  the  spiritual 
sense  of  the  divine  law,  and  saw  in  the  sacrifice  of  the  lamb 
the  true  suffering  of  the  Lord's  body. 

What  purpose  shall  we  think  Abraham  our  father  intended 
by  first  instituting  what  his  posterity  would  not  continue? 
Or  why  are  infants'  bodies  circumcised  and  imperiled  at 
birth,  and  commanded  thus  by  a  divine  pronouncement  so 
that  by  reason  of  a  mystery  of  religion  their  life  is  endangered? 
What  does  this  mean?  The  true  cause  lies  hidden;  the 

61  Cf.  Virgil,  Eel.  6.59;  Aen.  5.330. 

62  Cf.  Virgil,  Georg.   S.376. 

1  Undated. 

2  Cf.  Acts    15.10. 

3  Cf.  Gen.  17.10. 

4  Cf.  John  8.56. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  91 

meaning  should  have  been  disclosed  by  a  clear  mystery  or 
enjoined  by  a  type  of  mystery  not  so  fraught  with  danger. 

And  why  was  the  sign  of  the  divine  testament  given  to 
that  member  of  the  body  which  is  considered  unseemly  to 
behold,  or  for  what  reason  did  the  Creator  of  our  body,  at 
the  very  beginning  of  our  race,  choose  to  have  His  work 
circumcised,  and  wounded,  and  stained  with  blood,  and  a 
part  cut  off  which  He,  who  has  arranged  all  things  in 'order, 
thought  proper  to  mold  together  with  our  other  members  as 
something  necessary?  This  part  of  our  body  is  either  contrary 
to  nature,  and  all  men  should  not  have  what  is  contrary  to 
nature,  or  it  is  according  to  nature,  and  that  which  was 
molded  for  the  perfection  of  our  nature  ought  not  to  be  cut 
off,  especially  since  those  who  are  unfriendly,  being  outside 
the  flock  of  the  Lord  our  God,  are  wont  to  make  this  the 
chief  subject  of  ridicule.  Since  it  is  God's  purpose,  as  He  has 
frequently  declared,  to  bring  as  many  as  possible  to  the 
observance  of  holy  religion,  how  much  the  more  would 
these  persons  be  attracted  were  they  not  deterred  either  by 
the  danger  of  this  very  circumcision  or  disapproval  of  it? 

But  to  return  to  my  first  purpose,  following  the  order  I 
have  laid  down,  it  seems  best  to  speak  of  the  exact  nature 
of  circumcision.  Its  defense  should  be  twofold,  since  the 
accusation  is  such:  the  one  brought  forward  by  the  Gentiles, 
the  other  raised  by  those  belonging  to  the  people  of  God. 
The  stronger  objection  comes  from  the  heathens  who  think 
that  men  who  have  been  marked  with  circumcision  are 
worthy  even  of  scorn  and  mockery.  Yet  their  wise  men  show 
such  approval  of  circumcision  that  they  think  it  right  to 
circumcise  those  set  apart  to  know  and  celebrate  their 
mysteries.5 

And  the  Egyptians,  who  devote  themselves  to  geometry  and 
the  observation  of  the  courses  of  the  stars,  consider  unholy 

5  Herodotus  2.37. 


92  SAINT  AMBROSE 

that  priest  who  has  not  the  distinctive  mark  of  circumcision. 
For  they  believe  that  neither  the  wisdom  of  magical  incan- 
tation, nor  geometry,  nor  astronomy  exert  their  power  without 
the  seal  of  circumcision.  And  to  render  their  operations 
effective  they  deem  it  necessary  to  celebrate  a  sort  of  puri- 
fication of  their  seers  by  a  secret  rite  of  circumcision. 

We  also  find  in  ancient  history  that  not  only  the  Egyptians, 
but  some  of  the  Ethiopians  and  Arabs  and  Phoenicians  used 
circumcision  among  their  people.  They  think  by  this  rite  to 
maintain  a  custom  still  to  be  approved,  for,  being  initiated 
through  the  first  fruits  of  their  own  body  and  blood,,  they 
feel  that  by  this  consecration  of  a  very  small  portion  they 
can  defeat  the  snares  which  the  demons  set  for  this  race  of 
ours.  They  think,  too,  that  those  who  attempt  to  harm  the 
well-being  of  the  whole  man  will  be  crippled  in  their 
operations  either  by  the  Law  or  by  the  appearance  of  this 
sacred  circumcision.  I  am  of  the  opinion  that  in  the  past  that 
Prince  of  devils  has  realized  that  his  arts  lose  their  baneful 
effects  if  he  tries  to  injure  one  whom  he  finds  initiated  in  the 
seal  of  sacred  circumcision,  or  one  who,  at  least  in  this 
respect,  seems  to  be  observing  the  divine  law. 

One  who  carefully  considers  the  functions  of  each  of  our 
members  will  be  able  to  realize  that  it  was  for  no  idle  purpose 
that  in  this  little  portion  of  this  member  the  child  was  not 
only  circumcised,  but  circumcised  on  the  eighth  day,6  when 
the  child's  mother  begins  again  to  have  pure  blood,  for  she 
is  said  to  sit  in  unclean  blood  until  the  eighth  day.  This 
answer  should  be  given  those  who  are  not  joined  to  us  in  the 
unity  of  faith,  yet  with  those  who  differ  from  us  discussion 
is  somewhat  difficult. 

To  those  who  believe  in  the  Lord  Jesus  the  same  reply 
must  be  given  which  we  were  unwilling  to  disclose  when  we 
argued  against  the  notions  of  the  Gentiles,  If  we  were 

6  Cf.  Gen.  17.12. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  93 

redeemed  not  with  perishable  things — with  silver  and  gold — 
but  with  the  precious  blood  of  our  Lord  Jesus  Christ,7  surely 
the  one  who  sold  us  had  a  right  to  our  service  in  the  coin 
of  a  now  sinful  race.  And,  undoubtedly,  to  release  from 
slavery  those  whom  he  held  bound  he  demanded  a  price. 
The  price  of  our  freedom  was  the  blood  of  the  Lord  Jesus, 
and  it  had  to  be  paid  necessarily  to  the  one  to  whom  we  had 
been  sold  by  our  sins. 

Until  this  price  was  paid  for  all  men  by  the  shedding  of 
the  Lord's  blood  for  the  forgiveness  of  all,  blood  was  required 
of  each  man  who,  by  the  Law  and  the  customary  rite,  was 
following  the  holy  precepts  of  religion.  Since  the  price  has 
been  paid  for  all  after  Christ  the  Lord  suffered,  there  is  no 
longer  need  for  the  blood  of  each  individual  to  be  shed  by 
circumcision,  for  in  the  blood  of  Christ  the  circumcision  of 
all  has  been  solemnized,  and  in  His  cross  we  have  all  been 
crucified  with  Him,  and  buried  together  in  His  tomb,  and 
planted  together  in  the  likeness  of  His  death  that  we  may  no 
longer  be  slaves  of  sin,  Tor  he  who  is  dead  is  acquitted  of 
sin.'8 

If  men  like  Marcion  and  Mani  think  to  find  fault  with 
God's  judgment  for  having  determined  to  publish  His  com- 
mand about  the  observance  of  circumcision  or  a  law  directing 
the  shedding  of  blood,  they  "must  also  think  that  the  Lord 
Jesus  is  to  be  found  fault  with  for  having  shed  not  a  little, 
but  much,  blood  for  the  redemption  of  this  world.  Even 
today  He  bids  us  shed  our  blood  in  the  great  struggle  of 
religion,  saying :  clf  anyone  wishes  to  come  after  me,  let  him 
take  up  his  cross,  and  follow  me.'9  If  such  an  accusation  is 
not  just  when  a  man  offers  himself  completely  out  of  love, 
and  cleanses  himself  by  the  shedding  of  much  blood,10  how 

7  CL   I  Peter  1.18,19. 

8  Rom.  6.5-7. 

9  Matt.   16.24. 

10  A  reference  to  the  martyrs. 


94  SAINT  AMBROSE 

can  we  blame  the  Law  for  exacting  a  mere  drop  of  blood, 
when  we  preach  that  the  Lord  Jesus  commands  the  shedding 
of  much  blood  and  the  death  of  the  whole  body? 

Neither  was  the  symbol  and  outward  appearance  of  circum- 
cision useless,  by  which  the  people  of  God,  marked  with  a 
certain  seal  of  the  body,  were  set  off  from  other  nations. 
But,  now  that  the  name  of  Christ  has  been  given  them,  they 
need  no  bodily  sign,  for  they  have  attained  the  honor  of  a 
divine  title.  Why  was  it  absurd  for  them  to  seem  to  bear 
some  pain  or  labor  for  piety's  sake,  that  by  these  difficulties 
their  devotion  might  be  better  tried?  It  is  also  becoming 
that  from  the  very  cradle  of  life  the  symbol  of  religion  should 
grow  with  us,  and  an  older  person  would  be  ashamed  not  to 
meet  labor  and  pain  when  his  tender  infancy  had  overcome 
them  both. 

Christian  people  now  have  no  need  of  the  light  pain  of 
circumcision;  they  bear  with  them  the  death  of  the  Lord;  in 
their  every  act  they  engrave  on  their  forehead  contempt  of 
death,  knowing  that  without  the  cross  of  the  Lord  they 
cannot  be  saved.  Who  would  use  a  needle  in  battle  while 
armed  with  stronger  weapons? 

Now,  anyone  knows  how  easy  it  is  to  refute  those  who 
maintain  that  more  persons  could  have  been  won  over  to  the 
observance  of  holy  religion  had  they  not  been  restrained 
through  fear  of  pain  or  the  sight  of  hardship.  Could  this 
frighten  an  older  person  when  many  babies  endured  it 
without  peril?  Granted  that  some  Jewish  babies  died  because 
they  were  unable  to  bear  the  pain  and  keen  stroke  of 
circumcision  in  their  bodies,  it  did  not  deter  others  who 
were  stronger  by  reason  of  their  more  advanced  age,  and  it 
made  more  praiseworthy  the  man  who  obeyed  the  heavenly 
precepts. 

If  they  think  so  slight  a  pain  an  obstacle  to  the  confession 
of  faith,  what  do  they  say  of  martyrdom?  If  they  find  fault 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  95 

with  the  pain  of  circumcision,  let  them  find  fault,  too,  with 
the  death  of  martyrs  by  whom  religion  has  been  heightened, 
not  diminished.  So  far  is  the  pain  of  circumcision  from  being 
harmful  to  faith  that  pain  but  makes  greater  trial  of  faith, 
for  the  grace  of  faith  is  greater  if  one  despises  pain  for 
religion's  sake.  Such  a  man  has  a  greater  reward  than  one 
who  was  willing  to  undergo  the  pain  of  circumcision,  only 
that  he  might  glory  in  the  Law  and  win  praise  from  men 
rather  than  from  God. 

It  was  fitting  for  this  partial  circumcision  to  take  place 
before  the  coming  of  Him  who  was  to  circumcise  the  whole 
man,  and  for  the  human  race  to  be  partially  prepared  to 
believe  that  which  is  perfect.  And  if  circumcision  needed  to 
take  place,  in  what  part  of  the  body  ought  it  to  have  been 
performed  than  in  that  which  seems  unseemly?  'So  that 
those  we  think  the  less  honorable  members  of  the  body, 
they  surround  with  more  abundant  honor,  and  our  uncomely 
parts  receive  a  more  abundant  comeliness.'11  In  what  part 
should  a  man  have  been  reminded  more  of  his  blood  than  in 
that  which  ministers  to  his  transgression? 

Now  it  is  time  to  reply  also  to  those  who  say  that  if  this 
part  of  our  body  is  according  to  nature  it  should  never  have 
been  cut  off,  and  if  it  is  not  according  to  nature  it  should  not 
have  been  part  of  it  at  birth.  Since  they  are  so  subtle,  let 
these  very  men  tell  me  whether  the  succession  of  the  human 
race,  which  rises  by  generations,  is  according  to  nature  or 
contrary  to  it.  If  it  is  according  to  nature  jt  should  never  be 
interrupted,  and  how  can  we  praise  the  chastity  of  men,  the 
virginity  of  maidens,  the  abstinence  of  widows,  the  restraint 
of  spouses?  No  effort  to  promote  generation  ought  to  be 
neglected.  But  the  Author  of  nature  Himself  did  not  pay 
this  regard  to  generation  for  He  gave  us,  when  living  in  the 
body,  His  own  example  and  exhorted  His  disciples  to 

II  1   Cor.  12.23, 


96  SAINT  AMBROSE 

chastity,  saying:  There  are  eunuchs  who  have  made  them- 
selves so  for  the  sake  of  the  kingdom  of  heaven.  Let  him 
accept  it  who  can.'12 

Since  man  is  composed  of  body  and  soul  (for  the  present  it 
will  suffice  to  speak  of  this  and  not  mention  the  spirit),  he  is 
naturally  not  the  same  in  both,  but  what  is  natural  to  the 
body  is  contrary  to  the  nature  of  the  soul,  and  what  is  natural 
to  the  soul  is  contrary  to  the  nature  of  the  body,  so  that,  if  I 
mention  what  is  natural  to  a  visible  object*  it  is  contrary  to  the 
nature  of  what  is  not  seen;  and  what  is  natural  to  what  is 
not  seen  is  contrary  to  the  nature  of  what  is  seen;  and  what 
is  natural  to  what  is  not  seen  is  contrary  to  the  nature  of  the 
visible  object.  It  is  no  incongruity  in  the  men  of  God  if  there 
should  be  some  things  contrary  to  physical  nature  which  are 
in  accord  with  the  nature  of  the  soul. 

Let  those  who  say  that  more  persons  would  have  believed, 
had  circumcision  not  been  instituted,  be  told  in  answer 
that  more  would  have  believed  if  there  had  not  been 
martyrdom,  but  the  constancy  of  a  few  is  more  excellent 
than  the  carelessness  of  many.  Just  as  many  kinds  of  baptisms 
first  took  place,  because  the  true  sacrament  of  baptism  in 
spirit  and  water  which  would  redeem  the  whole  man  was  to 
follow,  so  circumcision  of  many  first  had  to  take  place 
because  the  circumcision  of  the  Lord's  passion  was  to  follow, 
which  Jesus  bore  like  the  Lamb  of  God  in  order  to  take 
away  the  sins  of  the  world.13 

I  have  written  this  to  show  that  it  was  right  for  circum- 
cision, which  is  outward,  to  occur  first  so  that  now,  after 
the  Lord's  coming,  it  might  seem  to  be  rightfully  set  aside. 
Now,  however,  there  is  a  necessary  circumcision  which  is  in 
secret  and  in  the  spirit,  as  the  Jew  is  more  excellent  when 
he  is  in  secret  and  in  the  spirit,  not  in  the  letter,  for  there 

12  Matt.  19.12. 

13  Cf.  John   1.36. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  97 

are  two  men  in  one,  and  of  them  it  is  said:  'Even  though 
our  outward  man  is  decaying  by  reason  of  his  desires  for 
wrongdoing,  yet  our  inner  man  is  being  renewed  day  by 
day/14  and  in  another  passage:  Tor  I  am  delighted  with 
the  law  of  God  according  to  the  inner  man.'15  Our  inward 
man  is  one  who  was  according  to  the  image  and  likeness  of 
God;  our  outward  man  is  fashioned  of  clay.  Therefore, 
again  in  Genesis,  He  reveals  to  you  two  creations  of  man,16 
showing  that  by  the  second  [creation]  man  was  created.17 

Therefore,  just  as  there  are  two  men,  so  is  there  a  twofold 
life:  one  of  the  inward,  the  other  of  the  outward  man. 
Indeed,  many  actions  of  the  inward  man  reach  to  the  outward 
one,  in  the  same  way  as  the  purity  of  the  inward  man  passes 
over  into  bodily  chastity.  One  who  is  free  from  adultery  of 
the  heart  is  free  from  bodily  adultery,  but  it  does  not  follow 
that  one  who  has  not  >  committed  adultery  in  the  body  will 
not  have  sinned  in  his  heart,  according  to  the  saying:  'Since 
anyone  who  so  much  as  looks  with  lust  at  a  woman  has 
already  committed  adultery  with  her  in  his  heart.'18  Such 
a  man,  although  he  is  not  yet  an  adulterer  in  body,  is  already 
one  in  desire.  So  there  is  a  circumcision  of  the  inward  man, 
for  the  circumcised  man  has  put  away,  like  foreskin,  the 
allurements  of  all  his  flesh,  that  he  may  be  in  the  spirit,  not 
in  the  flesh,  and  by  the  spirit  may  mortify  the  deeds  of  his 
body. 

This  is  that  circumcision  in  secret,  for  Abraham  was 
first  in  uncircumcision  and  later  in  circumcision.  Thus,  our 
inward  man,  while  it  is  in  the  flesh,  is,  as  it  were,  in 
uncircumcision,  but,  when  one  is  no  longer  in  the  flesh  but 
in  the  spirit,  he  begins  being  in  circumcision,  not  in  uncir- 

14  2  Cor.  4.16. 

15  Rom.  7.22. 

16  Cf.  Gen.  1.27. 

17  Cf.   Gen.  2.7. 

18  Matt.  5.28. 


98  SAINT  AMBROSE 

cumcision.  And  just  as  the  circumcised  man  does  not  put 
away  the  whole  flesh  but  only  his  foreskin,  where  corruption 
is  more  frequent,  so  the  man  who  is  circumcised  in  secret 
puts  away  the  flesh  of  which  it  is  written:  'All  flesh  is  grass, 
and  all  the  glory  thereof  as  the  flower  of  the  field.  The 
grass  is  withered  and  the  flower  is  fallen:  but  the  word  of 
our  Lord  endureth  for  ever.519  There  still  remains  the  flesh 
which  will  see  the  salvation  of  God,  as  it  is  written:  'All 
flesh  shall  see  the  salvation  of  God.'20  Cleanse  your  ears 
that  you  may  understand  what  this  flesh  is. 

The  circumcision  in  secret  should  be  such  that  it  bears 
no  comparison  with  that  which  is  outward.  Thus,  one  who 
is  a  Jew  in  secret  excels;  he  is  of  Juda  whose  hand,  like  a 
lion  crouching,  rests  on  the  neck  of  his  enemies,  and  [he  is] 
like  a  lion's  whelp,  which  his  brothers  praise.21  The  prince 
does  not  depart  from  this  Juda,  because  his  words  choose  as 
princes  those  who  are  not  overcome  by  worldly  allurements 
or  ensnared  by  the  pleasures  of  this  earth.  And  since  Juda 
was  born  into  this  generation,  many  born  afterwards  are 
preferred  that  they  may  enjoy  a  pre-eminence  in  virtue.  Let 
us  have,  therefore,  a  secret  circumcision  and  let  us  have  the 
Jew  who  is  such  in  secret,  that  is,  the  spiritual  one,  for  the 
spiritual  man,  like  a  prince,  judges  all  things,  and  he  himself 
is  judged  by  no  man."2 

It  was  fitting  for  the  circumcision,  commanded  by  the 
prescription  of  the  Law,  to  cease  after  He  came  who  cir- 
cumcised the  whole  man  and  fulfilled  the  circumcision  of  the 
Law.  Who  is  this  but  the  one  who  said:  CI  have  not  come 
to  destroy  the  Law  but  to  fulfill  it'?23 

Yet,  if  you  pay  careful  attention,  the  fact  of  the  coming 

19  Isa.  40.6-8. 

20  Luke  3.6. 

21  Cf.  Gen.  49.8. 

22  Cf.   1   Cor.  2.15. 

23  Matt.   5.17. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  99 

of  the  fullness  of  the  Gentiles  Is  the  reason  why  circumcision 
of  the  foreskin  was  no  longer  needed.  Circumcision  was  not 
enjoined  on  the  Gentiles,  but  on  the  seed  of  Abraham,  as  you 
have  In  the  first  promise  of  God :  'God  also  said  to  Abraham, 
"You  shall  keep  my  covenant,  you  and  your  descendants 
after  you  throughout  their  generations.  This  is  my  convenant, 
which  you  shall  keep,  between  you  and  me  and  your  des- 
cendants after  you:  Every  male  among  you  shall  be  circum- 
cised, you  shall  circumcise  the  flesh  of  your  foreskin;  it 
shall  be  a  token  of  the  covenant  between  you  and  me.  He 
that  is  eight  days  old  among  you  shall  be  circumcised,  every 
male  throughout  your  generations,  Including  the  slave  born 
in  your  house,  or  bought  with  money  from  any  foreigner,  not 
of  your  own  race.  My  covenant  shall  be  in  your  flesh  as  a 
perpetual  covenant.  If  any  male  have  not  the  flesh  of  his 
foreskin  circumcised,  that  person  shall  be  cut  off  from  his 
people;  he  has  broken  my  covenant."  '24  It  is  said  that  the 
Hebrew  text,  as  Aquila  suggests,  does  not  have  the  words  'on 
the  eighth  day.'  But  all  authority  does  not  rest  with  Aquila 
who,  being  a  Jew,  passed  it  by  in  the  letter  and  did  not 
Insert  cthe  eighth  day.'25 

Meanwhile,  you  have  heard  that  the  eighth  day  and 
circumcision  were  given  as  a  sign.  A  sign  is  an  Indication  of 
a  greater  matter,  an  indication  of  some  future  reality.  A 
covenant  was  given  Abraham  and  his  seed  to  whom  it  was 
said:  'Through  Isaac  shall  be  your  descendants,'26  and 
circumcision  was  permitted  a  Jew,  or  one  born  in  his  house, 
or  bought  with  his  money.  But  we  cannot  extend  this  to  a 
foreigner  or  convert  unless  he  is  born  in  the  house  of 
Abraham,  or  bought  with  his  money,  or  descended  from  his 
seed.  Again,  He  said  nothing  of  converts,  but  when  He 

24  Gen.  17,9-14. 

25  Evidence   of   Ambrose's    acquaintance    with    Aquila's    reading,    which 
he  consulted  in  exegetical  discussions. 

26  Gen.  21.12. 


100  SAINT  AMBROSE 

wished  to  speak  of  them  He  mentioned  them  expressly,  as 
in  the  words:  cAnd  the  Lord  spoke  to  Moses,  saying:  "Speak 
to  Aaron  and  his  sons,  and  to  all  the  children  of  Israel, 
saying  to  them:  If  any  man  is  of  the  sons  of  Israel  and  of 
the  strangers  that  sojourn  among  you,  let  that  man  offer  a 
holocaust."  527  When  it  includes  them,  the  Law  touches  on 
them,  but  when  the  divine  pronouncement  does  not  point  to 
them,  how  can  they  appear  bound  by  it?  Again  you  have: 
'Speak  to  the  sons  of  Aaron/28  when  the  priests  are  meant, 
and  so  also  regarding  the  Levites. 

Thus  it  is  clearly  manifest  that  even  by  the  letters  of  the 
Law,  although  the  Law  is  spiritual,  according  to  that  letter 
the  Gentile  nations  could  not  be  obliged  to  observe  circum- 
cision. Circumcision  was  but  a  sign  until  the  fullness  of  the 
Gentiles  should  enter  and  all  Israel  be  saved  through  circum- 
cision of  the  heart,  not  of  a  small  portion  of  one  member. 
Therefore,  we  are  excused  from  circumcision,  and  the  con- 
tinuance of  circumcision  among  the  Jews  of  today  is  done 
away  with. 

Regarding  those  who  say  that  it  is  objectionable  now  as 
in  time  past  it  was  to  the  Gentiles,  I  would  say,  first  of  all, 
that  they  are  not  competent  to  find  fault  or  scoff  at  what 
their  other29  fellows  do.  Suppose  there  were  some  cause  for 
ridicule,  why  should  this  disturb  us  when  the  very  cross  of 
the  Lord  is  a  stumbling  block  to  the  Jews  and  to  the  Greeks 
foolishness,  but  to  us  the  power  of  God  and  wisdom?30  The 
Lord  Himself  said:  'Whoever  disowns, me  before  men,  I  in 
turn  will  disown  him  before  my  Father  in  heaven.'31  He 
teaches  us  not  to  be  disturbed  by  those  practices  which  are 
scoffed  at  by  men,  if  we  observe  them  in  the  service  of  religion. 

27  Gen.   17.1,2,8. 

28  Lev.  17.2. 

29  The  Egyptians  and  others  mentioned  above. 

30  Cf.  I  Cor.  1.23,24. 

31  Matt.  10.32. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  101 

17.  Ambrose  to  Fegadius  and  Delphinus,  bishops1 

My  son  Polybius,  on  his  return  from  Africa  where  he  had 
discharged  his  proconsular  duties  with  distinction,  spent  some 
few  days  with  us  and  endeared  himself  to  my  affections 
most  favorably. 

Then,  when  he  wished  to  leave  here  and  set  forth  on  his 
journey,  he  asked  me  to  write  to  both  of  you.  I  promised  to 
do  so,  and,  having  dictated  a  letter,  gave  it  to  him,  addressed 
to  both  of  you.  He  asked  for  another,  but  I  said  that  it  was 
addressed  to  both  of  you  in  accordance  with  our  usual  custom, 
since  your  holy  souls  are  delighted  not  by  the  number  of 
letters  but  by  the  association  of  your  names,  and  that,  united 
as  you  are  in  affection,  it  would  not  be  permissible  to  separate 
your  names,  whereas  my  office  also  demands  the  practice  of 
this  short  cut  to  charity." 

To  be  brief,  he  demanded  another  letter  and  I  gave  him 
one  so  as  not  to  refuse  him  what  he  asked,  nor  to  change 
my  usual  custom  of  acting.  He,  therefore,  has  a  letter  to 
deliver  to  each  of  you,  for  this  was  the  only  excuse  he  had, 
that  when  he  had  made  the  delivery  to  one  of  you  he  would 
have  nothing  for  the  other.  This  pledge  of  undivided  affection 
I  may  render  to  you  without  any  fear  of  reproach  or  scruple 
of  division,  especially  since  this  form  of  writing  is  apostolic, 
and  one  may  write  to  many,  as  Paul  to  the  Galatians,  or  two 
may  write  to  one,  as  it  is  written:  'Paul,  a  prisoner  of  Jesus 
Christ,  and  our  brother  Timothy,  to  Philemon.'2 

Health  to  you;  love  us  and  pray  for  us,  for  I  love  you. 

1  Undated. 

2  Fhilem.  1.1. 


102  SAINT  AMBROSE 

18,  Ambrose  to  Felix  (c,  380) 

The  truffles  you  sent  me  are  of  extraordinary  size,  so  large 
as  to  cause  amazement.  I  had  no  desire  to  hide  them.,  as 
they  say,  in  the  fold  of  my  toga,  but  I  preferred  showing 
them  also  to  others.  As  a  result,  I  shared  some  with  friends, 
some  1  kept  for  myself. 

Your  gift  is  most  agreeable,  but  it  is  not  weighty  enough 
to  still  in  me  the  complaints  rightly  caused  by  the  fact  that 
you  never  come  to  see  me,  although  I  have  loved  you  so 
long.  Take  care  lest  later  you  find  the  growth  of  my  distress 
no  trifle.  Growth  has  a  double  meaning:  things  grown  may  be 
pleasing  as  gifts,  but  growths  in  the  body  and  in  the  affections 
are  signs  of  trouble.1  See  to  it  that  I  am  not  troubled  by  your 
absence.  I  arn  upset  by  a  deep  longing  for  you.  Try,  if  you 
can,  to  be  less  pleasing  to  me. 

I  have  explained  my  statement;  I  have  proved  my  case.  I 
have  to  hurl  at  you  a  well-aimed  weapon,  no  ordinary  state- 
ment. Certainly  you  must  be  alarmed,  but  notice  that, 
disturbed  as  I  am,  I  can  jest.  Hereafter,  don't  make  excuses, 
although  your  present  excuse  is  a  profitable  one  to  me.  Still, 
it  looks  bad  for  you,  and  it  shows  me  in  a  bad  light,  too, 
when  you  think  I  have  to  be  bribed  to  overlook  your  absence 
or  bribed  in  being  won  back  to  you. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  who  love  you. 


19.  Ambrose  to  Felix,  greetings  (c.  380) 

I  was  not  feeling  well  when  your  message  came,  yet  when 
I  had  read  it,  being  of  one  heart  with  you,  \  received  no 
small  help  toward  recovery,  as  though  I  had  been  restored 

1  A  play  on  dolor  is  tub  era. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  103 

to  health  by  the  sweet  potion  of  your  discourse,  and  also 
because  you  said  that  an  anniversary  day  was  fast  approach- 
ing, a  day  most  solemn  for  both  of  us,  when  you  took  hold 
of  the  helm  of  the  high-priesthood.  I  had  been  speaking  of 
this  but  a  moment  before  to  my  brother  Bassianus.  He  had 
started  talking  of  the  dedication  of  the  basilica  which  he 
built  and  named  for  the  Apostles,  and  this  fact  turned  our 
conversation  in  your  direction.  In  fact,  he  had  expressed  a 
great  desire  to  have  your  Holiness  present  for  the  dedication. 

Then  I  brought  up  the  matter  of  your  day  of  consecration, 
which  would  occur  at  the  beginning  of  November.  In  fact, 
I  remarked  that  it  was  close  at  hand  and  would  be  celebrated 
on  the  morrow.  After  that  day  passed  there  would  not  be  any 
excuse  for  you.  So  I  made  a  promise  on  your  behalf,  just  as 
you  can  do  for  me.  I  promised  him;  I  exacted  one  for 
myself.  I  took  for  granted  that  you  would  be  present  because 
you  should  be.  My  promise  will  not  be  any  more  binding 
than  the  ordinary  custom  you  have  resolved  upon,  namely, 
of  doing  what  you  should.  So,  you  see,  I  made  the  pledge 
to  my  brother,  being  not  so  bold  in  the  promise  as  I  was 
fully  acquainted  with  you.  Come,  therefore,  so  that  you 
will  not  disappoint  two  priests — yourself,  who  would  not  be 
present,  and  myself,  who  made  the  promise  so  readily. 

We  shall  attend  your  anniversary  day  with  prayers,  and 
may  you  not  forget  us  in  your  prayers.  Our  spirit  will 
accompany  you.  And  when  you  enter  the  second  tabernacle 
which  is  called  the  Holy  of  Holies,1  do  as  we  do,  that  you 
may  take  us  with  you.  When,  in  spirit,  you  burn  incense  in 
the  golden  censer,  do  not  pass  us  by,  for  incense  is  to  be 
found  in  the  second  tabernacle  and  from  this  your  prayer 
becomes  full  of  wisdom,  like  incense  directed  to  heaven. 

In  that  place  is  the  Ark  of  the  Testament  all  covered 

1  CL   Exocl.    26.55.    A    reference    to    the   second   anniversary   of   Felix's 
elevation   to    the   episcopacy. 


104  SAINT  AMBROSE 

with  gold,  that  is,  with  the  teaching  of  Christ,  with  the 
teaching  of  the  Wisdom  of  God.  There  is  the  golden  vessel 
containing  manna,  the  vessel  of  spiritual  nourishment,  the 
storehouse  of  divine  knowledge.  There  is  the  rod  of  Aaron, 
symbol  of  the  grace  of  the  priesthood.  In  the  past  it  withered, 
but  it  has  budded  anew  in  Christ.  There  are  the  cherubim 
above  the  tablets  of  the  Testament,  the  knowledge  of  holy 
Scripture.  There  is  the  propitiatory,2  and  high  aloft  is  God 
the  Word,  the  image  of  the  invisible  God,3  who  says  to  you : 
6 1  will  speak  to  thee  over  the  propitiatory,  and  from  the  midst 
of  the  two  cherubim.'4  He  speaks  to  us  in  such  a  way  that  we 
may  understand  His  speech.  Then,  because  He  speaks  not 
of  worldly  matters  but  of  those  of  the  soul,  He  says:  CI  shall 
open  my  mouth  in  parables.55  Where  Christ  is,  there  are  all 
things,  there  is  His  teaching,  there  forgiveness  of  sins,  there 
grace,  there  the  separation  of  the  dead  and  the  living. 

Indeed,  Aaron  once  stood  in  the  midst  of  these  furnishings 
of  the  temple,  exposing  himself  to  danger  so  that  death 
would  not  pass  over  to  the  hosts  of  the  living  from  the 
heaps  of  the  dead.6  In  the  Holy  of  Holies,  moreover,  like 
the  Word,  He  whom  we  do  not  see  stands  within  each  one 
of  us,  separating  the  faculty  of  reasoning  from  the  lifeless 
bodies  of  our  deadly  passions  and  plague-ridden  thoughts. 
He  stands  as  one  who  has  come  into  this  world  to  dull  the 
sting  of  death,  to  close  its  devouring  jaws,  to  give  everlasting 
grace  to  the  living,  to  grant  resurrection  to  the  dead.7 

For  Him  you  fight  the  good  fight,8  you  guard  His  treasure, 
you  lend  His  money,  as  it  is  written:  'Thou  shalt  lend  to 
nations.'9  The  profit  from  spiritual  grace  is  a  good  thing. 

2  The   mercy   seat  or  seat  of  judgment. 

3  Cf.  Col.  1.15. 

4  Exod.  25.22. 

5  Ps.   77.2. 

6  Cf.   Num.   16.47,48. 

7  Heb.  2.14,15. 

8  Cf.  1  Tim.  6.12. 

9  Deut.  15.16. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  105 

The  Lord  when  He  comes  will  demand  it  with  interest,  and 
when  He  finds  that  you  have  managed  His  affairs  well  He 
will  give  you  more  in  return  for  less.  It  will  be  a  very  sweet 
delight  to  me  that  my  confidence  in  you  is  warranted.  Your 
ordination,  which  you  received  through  the  laying  on  of  my 
hands,  and  through  the  blessing  in  the  name  of  the  Lord 
Jesus,10  will  not  be  censured.  Perform  your  task  well,  there- 
fore, so  that  you  may  find  a  reward  on  that  day  and  we  may 
be  in  peace — I  in  you,  and  you  in  me. 

The  harvest  of  Christ  is  great,  but  the  laborers  are  few, 
and  it  is  hard  to  find  helpers.  This  is  an  old  truth.  Yet  the 
Lord  is  able  to  send  laborers  into  His  vineyard.11  Certainly, 
among  the  people  of  Como  several  have  begun  now  to 
believe  your  teaching  and  they  have  received  the  word  of 
God  through  your  instruction.  He  who  gave  followers  will 
also  give  helpers,  so  that  your  need  to  apologize  for  seldom 
coming  to  see  us  will  be  removed,  and  we  shall  again  have 
the  oft-repeated  favor  of  your  company. 

Farewell,  and  love  us  as  you  do. 


20.  Ambrose  to  Justus,  greetings  (before  381) 

You  make  a  very  good  suggestion,  brother,  that  we  should 
devote  our  correspondence  and  our  conversation  at  a  distance 
to  the  interpretation  of  Heaven's  words,  asking  me  as  you  did 
what  is  signified  by  that  didrachma,  a  half  of  which  the 
Hebrew  is  told  to  offer  for  the  redemption  of  his  soul.1  What 
brings  us  together  so  closely  as  the  weaving  together  of 
conversation  on  holy  subjects? 

10  Cf.  2  Tim.   1.16. 

11  Cf.  Matt.  9.37. 


1  Cf.  Exod.  30.12-16. 


106  SAINT  AMBROSE 

A  half-didrachma  Is  a  drachma.  Now,  the  price  of  the 
soul  Is  faith.  Faith,  therefore,  is  that  lost  drachma  which  the 
woman  in  the  Gospel  seeks  diligently,  as  we  read,  lighting  a 
candle  and  sweeping  her  house,  and  after  finding  it,^  she 
calls  together  her  friends  and  neighbors,  bidding  them  rejoice 
with  her  because  she  has  found  the  drachma  which  she  had 
lost.-  Great  is  the  damage  to  the  soul  if  one  has  lost  the  faith 
or  the  grace  which  he  has  gained  for  himself  at  the  price  of 
faith.  Therefore,  light  your  lamp:  'Your  lamp  is  your  eye/3 
namely,  the  interior  eye  of  the  soul  Light  the  lamp  which 
feeds  upon  the  oil  of  the  spirit  and  shines  throughout  your 
whole  house.  Seek  the  drachma,  the  redemption  of  your 
soul,  for,  if  a  man  loses  this,  he  is  troubled,  and  if  he  finds 
it,  he  rejoices. 

Mercy  is  also  the  ransom  of  the  soul,  for  the  saving  of  a 
man's  soul  is  his  riches  by  which,  assuredly,  mercy  is  done, 
gladdening  the  poor  by  this  expenditure.4  Therefore,  faith 
and  grace  and  mercy  are  the  ransom  of  the  soul;  these  are 
bought  by  the  full  payment  of  a  drachma,  that  is,  a  large 
sum.  So  it  is  written  in  the  Scriptures  that  the  Lord  said  to 
Moses:  'When  thou  shalt  take  the  sum  of  the  children  of 
Israel  according  to  their  number,  every  one  of  them  shall 
give  a  price  for  souls  to  the  Lord:  and  there  shall  be  no 
scourge  among  them,  when  they  shall  be  reckoned,  And  this 
shall  every  one  give  that  passeth  at  the  naming,  half  a 
didrachma  according  to  the  standard  of  the  temple.  A 
didrachma  hath  twenty  obols.  Half  a  didrachma  shall  be 
the  tax  to  the  Lord.  He  that  is  counted  in  the  number  from 
twenty  years  and  upwards,  shall  give  the  tax.  The  rich  man 
shall  not  add,  and  the  poor  man  shall  diminish  nothing 
from  the  half-didrachma.  When  they  begin  to  give  an  offering 


2  Cf.  Luke   15.8,9. 

3  Matt.   6.22. 

4  Cf.   Prov.   13.8. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  107 

to  the  Lord  and  to  pray  for  their  souls,  the  money  received 
from  the  tax  on  the  children  of  Israel,  thou  shalt  receive  and 
deliver  unto  the  uses  of  the  tabernacle  of  the  testimony  and 
it  will  be  a  reminder  of  them  before  the  Lord  to  be  merciful 
to  your  souls,'5 

Was  not  the  offering  made,  therefore,  when  a  rich  man 
offered  more  or  a  poor  man  less,  even  though  the  half- 
didrachma  consisted  only  of  money  and  not  of  virtue?  So 
we  must  realize  that  the  drachma  is  not  a  material  thing 
but  a  spiritual  one,  which  is  known  to  be  contributed  equally 
by  all. 

Finally,  in  regard  to  the  heavenly  food  (for  heavenly 
wisdom  is  food  and  delightful  nourishment,  which  those  in 
paradise  feed  upon,  the  unfailing  food  of  the  soul,  called  by 
the  mouth  of  God,  manna),  we  read  that  distribution  was 
made  to  each  soul  so  that  there  might  be  an  equal  share. 
They  gathered  it  according  to  the  direction  of  Moses,  both 
those  who  gathered  much  and  those  who  gathered  little. 
Each  man  measured  a  gomor  and  the  amount  did  not 
abound  or  remain  over  and  above  for  him  who  had  gathered 
much,  nor  was  it  less  for  him  who  had  gathered  less.6  Each 
one,  in  accordance  with  the  number  of  souls  which  dwelt 
with  him  in  the  tent,  gathered  a  gomor  for  each — that  is,  a 
measure  of  wine  as  the  interpretation  goes. 

There  is  a  measure  of  wisdom,  too,  which  harms  if  it  is 
above  measure,  because  it  has  been  written:  £Do  not  be 
very  wise.'7  Paul,  too,  taught  that  a  division  of  graces  is  given 
according  to  measure,  when  he  says :  'Now  the  manifestation 
of  the  Spirit  is  given  to  everyone  for  profit,  to  one  the 
utterance  of  wisdom,  to  another  the  utterance  of  knowledge, 
to  another  the  faith  of  wisdom  according  to  the  same  Spirit, 

5  Exod.  30.12-16. 

6  Cf.  Exod.  16.17,18. 

7  Eccle.  7.17. 


108  SAINT  AMBROSE 

faith  in  the  same  Spirit,'8  and  according  to  the  will  of  the 
Spirit  this  grace  is  apportioned.  It  belongs  to  His  justice  that 
He  divides;  it  belongs  to  His  power  that  He  divides  according 
to  His  will,  or  because  He  wishes  to  give  to  each  what  He 
knows  will  be  of  profit. 

A  gomor  is  a  measure,  a  measure  of  wine  which  gladdens 
the  heart  of  man.9  Can  anything  but  a  draught  of  wisdom 
be  the  joy  of  the  heart?  This  is  the  wine  which  Wisdom  has 
mixed  in  the  bowl,10  and  offers  to  us  to  drink  so  that  we 
may  receive  temperance  and  prudence,  which  should  be 
carried  to  our  feeling  and  thoughts  and  all  the  movements 
in  this  house  of  ours  in  such  equal  measure  that  we  shall 
know  how  to  abound  in  all  things,  to  fail  in  none. 

This  truth  is  more  fully  understood  regarding  the  blood  of 
Christ,  for  its  power  is  not  lessened,  is  not  increased. 
Whether  we  partake  of  a  little  or  whether  we  drink  much, 
the  same  measure  of  redemption  is  accomplished  for  all. 

The  patriarchs  are  also  commanded  to  eat  the  Pasch  of 
the  Lord,  that  is,  the  lamb,  that  they  may  eat  in  accordance 
with  the  numbers  of  souls,  not  too  many,  not  too  few.  Some 
are  not  to  be  given  more  and  others  less,  but  in  accordance 
with  the  number  of  each.  Thus,  the  strong  may  not  take  more, 
nor  the  weak  less.  An  equal  grace  is  given  to  each,  redemption 
is  given,  a  gift  is  given.  There  should  not  be  too  many 
persons,  either,  for  then  someone  may  go  away  deprived  of 
his  hope  and  redemption.  There  are  too  many  when  there 
are  some  beyond  the  number,  since  the  saints  are  all 
numbered,  and  the  hairs  of  their  head.  The  Lord  knows 
who  are  His.  There  should  not  be  too  few  lest  by  reason  of 
the  great  amount  of  grace  someone  be  too  weak  to  receive  it. 

He  teaches  all  to  bring  equal  devotion  and  faith  to  the 

8  1   Cor.  12.7-11. 

9  Cf.  Ps.  103.15. 
10  Cf.  Prov.  9.2. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  109 

Pasch  of  the  Lord,  that  is,  to  the  'passage/  for  it  is  the 
Pasch  when  the  soul  lays  away  unreasonable  passion,  but 
takes  up  a  goodly  compassion,  that  she  may  share  Christ's 
passion  and  await  His  passage  into  her,  that  He  may  dwell 
in  the  soul,  and  walk  with  her  and  become  her  God.  Grace 
itself  is  equal  in  all,  but  virtue  varies  in  each.  Let  each  person, 
then,  receive  grace  proportioned  to  his  strength,  so  that  the 
strong  man  does  not  feel  need  or  the  weak  man  a  burden. 

You  have  this  truth  in  the  Gospel,11  since  the  same  wages 
were  given  to  all  who  worked  in  the  vineyard.  Few  reach 
the  goal,  few  the  crown.  Few  say:  'There  is  laid  up  for  me 
a  crown  of  justice.'12  The  gift  of  liberality  and  grace  is  one 
thing;  the  reward  of  virtue,  the  remuneration  of  labor,  is 
another. 

The  didrachma  is  our  redemption,  nay,  a  half-didrachma. 
It  has  redeemed  us  from  death,  it  has  redeemed  us  from 
slavery,  lest  we  be  subject  to  the  world  which  we  have 
renounced.  Our  Lord  in  the  Gospel,  therefore,  tells  Peter  to 
go  to  the  sea,  to  let  down  his  fishhook  and  to  take  the 
stater  he  finds  in  the  mouth  of  a  fish  and  give  it  to  the  tax 
collector  for  the  Lord  and  himself.13  This  is  the  didrachma 
which  was  demanded  according  to  law.  Yet  it  was  not  the 
king's  son  who  owed  it,  but  the  foreigner.  For,  why  should 
Christ  pay  to  ransom  Himself  from  this  world,  He  who  had 
come  to  take  away  the  sin  of  the  world?14  Why  should  He 
pay  the  price  of  ransom  from  sin,  He  who  had  come  down 
to  forgive  the  sins  of  all?15  Why  should  He  redeem  Himself 
from  slavery,  He  who  had  emptied  Himself  to  give  liberty  to 
all?16  Why  should  He  redeem  Himself  from  death,  He  who 

11  Cf.  Matt.  20.10. 

12  2  Tim.  4.8. 

13  Cf.  Matt.  17.26. 

14  Cf.    Matt.    17.24. 

15  Cf.  John  1.29. 

16  Cf.  Phil.  2.7. 


110  SAINT  AMBROSE 

had  become  incarnate  to  give  the  resurrection  to  all  by  His 
death? 

Surely,  the  Redeemer  of  all  had  no  need  of  redemption, 
but,  just  as  He  had  received  circumcision  in  order  to  fulfill 
the  Law/7  and  had  come  to  baptism  to  fulfill  justice/8  so 
also  He  did  not  refuse  the  payment  of  the  didrachma  to  the 
tax  collectors,  but  at  once  ordered  a  stater  to  be  given, 
instead  of  a  didrachma,  for  Himself  and  for  Peter.19  He 
preferred  to  pay  beyond  what  was  required  by  Law  rather 
than  to  refuse  to  give  what  belonged  to  the  Law.  At  the 
same  time  He  showed  that  the  Jews  acted  contrary  to  the 
Law  by  exacting  a  didrachma  from  each  man.,  whereas 
Moses  had  prescribed  that  a  half-didrachma  should  be 
exacted.  Christ,  therefore,  bade  a  drachma  apiece  to  be  paid 
in  the  stater  for  Himself  and  for  Peter.  The  tribute  of  Christ 
is  good  since  it  is  paid  in  a  stater,  because  justice  is  a  stater 
and  justice  is  above  the  Law.  Besides,  ' Christ  is  the  con- 
summation of  the  Law  unto  justice  for  everyone  who  be- 
lieves.'"0 This  stater  is  found  in  the  mouth  of  a  fish,  of  that 
fish  which  the  fishers  of  men  catch,  of  that  Fish31  which 
weighs  its  words  so  that  He  may  bring  forth  words  tried  by 
fire.22 

The  Jews  did  not  know  the  stater  which  they  gave  to  the 
betrayer.  The  Law  exacts  a  half-didrachma  for  the  redemp- 
tion of  a  soul,  and  vows  this  to  God,  being  unable  to  claim 
the  whole  didrachma.  One  does  not  find  any  amount  of 
prayer  in  a  Jew.  But  the  true  man  is  free,  the  true  Hebrew 
belongs  entirely  to  God — everything  which  he  has  partakes 
of  this  freedom.  But  whoever  refuses  freedom,  saying:  'I 
love  my  master  and  my  wife  and  children,  I  will  not  go  out 

17  Cf.   Luke  2.22. 

18  Cf.   Matt.  3.15. 

19  Cf.  Matt.   17.26. 

20  Rom.  10.4. 

21  Ichthus,  a  symbol  of  Christ. 

22  Cf.  Fs.  17.31. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  Ml 

free,'23  has  none  of  God.  This  refers  not  only  to  the  Lord 
but  also  to  the  weakness  of  a  man  who  subjects  himself  to 
the  world,  because  he  loves  the  world  as  his  own  soul,  that 
is,  his  nous,  the  source  of  his  will.  This  refers  not  only  to 
one's  wife  but  also  to  the  delight  one  has  in  the  affairs  of  the 
house  while  he  cares  not  for  those  which  are  eternal.  At  his 
doorway  and  on  his  threshold  his  master  punctures  the 
servant's  ear24  so  that  he  will  remember  the  words  by  which 
he  chose  slavery. 

And  you,  O  Christian,  do  not  imitate  such  a  person  as 
this;  because  it  is  written  for  you  that  if  you  wish  to  be 
perfect  you  should  offer  to  God  not  a  half-didrachma,  but 
that  you  should  sell  all  that  you  have  and  give  it  to  the 
poor.20  Nor  should  you  keep  a  part  of  your  service  for  the 
world;  you  should  deny  yourself  completely,  and  take  up  the 
cross  of  the  Lord  and  follow  Him. 

We  know  that  a  half-didrachma  is  demanded  by  the  Law, 
because  half  is  kept  for  the  generation  of  this  world — that  is, 
for  worldly  affairs  and  use  in  the  home  and  for  posterity, 
to  whomever  a  portion  from  the  inheritance  needs  to  be 
transmitted.  The  Lord,  therefore,  responded  to  the  Pharisees 
testing  Him  with  that  crafty  question  whether  He  thought 
tribute  should  be  given  to  Caesar:  'Why  do  you  test  me, 
you  hypocrites?  Show  me  the  coin  of  the  tribute.526  And 
they  offered  Him  a  denarius  on  which  was  the  image  of 
Caesar.  He  then  said  to  them:  'Render,  therefore,  to  Caesar 
the  things  that  are  Caesar's,  and  to  God  the  things  that  are 
God's/27  showing  them  how  imperfect  they  were,  although 
they  seemed  perfect  in  their  own  eyes,  for  they  paid  their 
debt  to  Caesar  before  they  did  so  to  God.  Those  who  are 

23  Exod.  21.5. 

24  A  mark  of  servitude,  for  earrings. 

25  Cf.  Matt.   19.21. 

26  Matt.  22.18,19. 

27  Matt.  22.21. 


112  SAINT  AMBROSE 

concerned  first  with  this  world  must  first  make  payment  to 
that  which  Is  of  this  world.  For  this  reason  He  also  said: 
'Render/  that  is,  you  yourself,  'give  back  those  things  which 
belong  to  Caesar/  you.,  in  whom  the  figure  and  image  of 
Caesar  is  found . 

The  Hebrew  youths — Ananias,  Azarias,  and  Misael28 — and 
Daniel,  too,  the  wise  man29  who  did  not  adore  the  image  of 
the  king,  who  did  not  believe  it,  or  accept  anything  from 
the  king's  table.,  were  not  bound  to  the  payment  of  tribute. 
They  possessed  none  of  the  things  which  are  subject  to  an 
earthly  king.30  Their  imitators,  too,  whose  inheritance  is  God, 
do  not  pay  tribute.  The  Lord  therefore  says:  'Render,5 
that  is,  do  you  yourselves  give  back,  you  who  have  brought 
forward  the  image  of  Caesar,  you  with  whom  it  is  found. 
But  I  owe  nothing  to  Caesar  becauses  I  have  no  part  in  this 
world:  'The  prince  of  the  world  is  coming,  and  in  me  he 
has  nothing.531  Peter  owes  nothing,  My  Apostles  owe  nothing, 
because  they  are  not  of  this  world  although  they  are  in  this 
world.  I  have  sent  them  into  this  world  but  they  are  no 
longer  of  this  world,  because  they  arc  with  Me  above  the 
world. 

Payment  is  demanded  for  those  things  which  are  of  the 
divine  law,  not  those  of  Caesar.  The  perfect  man,  that  is, 
the  preacher  of  the  Gospel,  because  he  had  preached  more? 
no  longer  owed  that  payment.  The  Son  of  God  did  not  owe 
the  tribute,  nor  did  Peter  owe  tribute,  who  had  been  admitted 
by  grace  to  adoption  by  the  Father.  cBut  that  we  may  not 
give  offense  to  them,  go  to  the  sea  and  cast  a  hook,  and 
take  the  fish  that  comes  up.  And  opening  its  mouth  thou 
wilt  find  a  stater;  take  that  and  give  it  to  them  for  me  and 

28  Cf.  Dan.  2.17. 

29  Cf,  Dan.  3.18. 

30  Cf.    Dan.    1.8. 

31  John    14.30. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  113 

for  thee.'32  O  great  mysteries!  He  gives  a  half-dldrachma 
because  the  Law  bade  Him,  and  He  did  not  refuse  what  Is 
of  the  Law,  as  He  was  born  of  a  woman,  born  under  the 
Law.  I  have  said  'He  was  born'  according  to  the  Incarnation, 
but  'of  a  woman'  according  to  sex.  Womankind  is  the  sex, 
virgin  is  the  species;  the  sex  has  to  do  with  nature,  a  virgin 
with  Integrity.  In  so  far  as  He  was  born  of  a  woman,  that  is, 
in  a  body,  He  came  under  the  Law.  And  so  He  ordered  the 
didrachma  to  be  paid  for  Himself  and  Peter  because  they 
were  both  born  under  the  Law.  He  bids  It  to  be  paid  accord- 
Ing  to  the  Law  so  that  He  might  redeem  those  who  were 
under  the  Law.33 

Nevertheless,  He  orders  a  stater  to  be  given,  clamping  shut 
their  mouths  so  that  out  of  much  talking  they  may  not  admit 
their  sin.  And  He  bids  that  to  be  given  which  was  found 
in  a  fish's  mouth  so  that  they  might  know  the  Word.  They 
exacted  what  was  of  the  Law;  why  did  they  not  know  what 
was  of  the  Law?  They  ought  not  to  have  been  ignorant  of 
the  Word  of  God,  because  it  was  written:  ''The  Word  is 
near  on  your  lips  and  in  your  heart.'34  Therefore,  a  whole 
didrachma  is  paid  to  God  by  Him  who  kept  nothing  for 
this  world.  Justice  Is  paid  to  God,  which  is  soberness  of  the 
mind;  guarded  speech  is  paid  to  God,  which  Is  moderation 
in  speech:  'With  the  heart  a  man  believes  unto  justice,  and 
with  the  mouth  profession  of  faith  Is  made  unto  salvation.'35 

Moreover,  a  drachma  can  be  Interpreted  as  the  Old 
Testament,  a  didrachma  as  the  price  of  both  Testaments. 
Because,  according  to  the  Law,  each  one  was  redeemed  by 
the  Law,  but  he  who  is  redeemed  according  to  the  Gospel 
pays  a  drachma  according  to  the  Law,  he  Is  redeemed  by 

32  Matt.    17.26. 

33  Cf.  Gal.  4.4,5. 

34  Deut.  30.14. 

35  Rom.  10.10. 


114  SAINT  AMBROSE 

the  blood  of  Christ  according  to  grace,  having  a  double 
redemption,  both  of  vow  and  of  blood.  Faith  alone  is  not 
sufficient  for  perfection  unless  one  also  obtains  the  grace  of 
baptism  and,  being  redeemed,  receives  the  blood  of  Christ. 
For  this  reason,  the  drachma  which  is  paid  to  God  is  good. 

A  drachma  is  not  a  denarius,  but  something  different.  On 
a  denarius  there  is  the  image  of  Caesar;  on  a  drachma,  the 
image  of  God.  It  is  the  image  of  the  one  God  for  the 
imitation  of  this  one.  It  begins  from  One  and  is  diffused 
endlessly.  And  later,  from  the  Infinite,  all  things  return  to 
this  One,  as  to  their  end,  because  God  is  both  the  beginning 
and  end  of  all.  Thus  mathematicians  do  not  call  a  unit  ca 
number5  but  the  'element'  of  a  number.  We  said  this,  too, 
since  it  has  been  written:  'I  am  the  Alpha  and  the  Omega, 
the  beginning  and  the  end,'36  and  'Hear,  O  Israel,  the  Lord 
thy  God  is  one  God.337 

You,  therefore,  be  one  and  the  same  as  the  image  of  God, 
not  sober  today  but  drunk  tomorrow;  today  peaceable,  on 
the  morrow  litigious;  today  virtuous,  on  the  morrow  in- 
continent. Each  one  is  changed  by  variation  of  his  habits  and 
becomes  someone  else;  in  this  condition  he  is  not  recognized 
for  what  he  was,  and  he  begins  to  be  what  he  was  not,  not 
his  genuine  self.  It  is  a  serious  matter  to  be  changed  for  the 
worse.  Be  like  the  image  on  the  drachma,  unchangeable, 
keeping  the  same  habits  every  day.  When  you  see  the 
drachma,  see  the  image;  when  you  see  the  Law,  see  Christ, 
the  image  of  God,  in  the  Law.  And  because  He  Himself  is 
the  image  of  the  invisible  and  incorruptible  God,  let  Him 
shine  for  you  as  in  the  mirror  of  the  Law.38  Confess  Him 
in  the  Law  that  you  may  acknowledge  Him  in  the  Gospel. 

36  Apoc.  1.8. 

37  Deut.  6.4. 

38  Cf.  Col.  1.15. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  1  15 

If  you  have  known  Him  through  His  commands,  acknowl- 
edge Him  in  His  works. 

Farewell,  and  if  you  think  it  was  not  fruitless  to  question 
me  about  the  didrachma,  and  if  you  need  anything  later  on, 
do  not  hesitate  to  call  on  me. 


21.  Ambrose  to  Justus  (c.  381) 

Many  persons  say  that  our  sacred  writers  did  not  write  in 
accordance  with  the  rules  of  rhetoric.  We  do  not  take  issue 
with  them:  the  sacred  writers  wrote  not  in  accord  with 
rules,  but  in  accord  with  grace,  which  is  above  all  rules  of 
rhetoric.  They  wrote  what  the  Holy  Spirit  gave  them  to 
speak.1  Yet,  writers  on  rhetoric  have  found  rhetoric  in  their 
writings  and  have  made  use  of  their  writings  to  compose 
commentaries  and  rules. 

In  rhetoric,  these  qualities  in  particular  are  demanded:  a 
cause  (aition),  a  subject  (hule),  and  an  end  or  purpose 
(apotelesma] .  Now,  when  we  read  that  blessed  Isaac  said 
to  his  father:  'Behold,  you  have  the  fire  and  the  wood,  but 
where  is  the  victim,'  are  these  qualities  lacking?  The  one 
asking  the  question  is  in  doubt;  the  one  who  answers  the 
question  gives  the  answer  and  removes  the  doubt.  The  fire 
is  the  cause;  the  wood  is  the  subject,  called  materia  in  Latin; 
the  third  item,  the  purpose,  is  that  which  the  child  sought 
and  which  the  father  showed  him  when  he  asked:  c Where 
is  the  victim?'  cGod  himself,'  he  said,  'will  provide  the 
sacrifice,  my  son.'2 

Let  us  discuss  the  meaning  of  the  mystery  for  a  little 
while.  God  showed  a  ram  sticking  fast  with  its  horns;3  the 

1  Cf.  Acts  2.4. 

2  Gen.  22.7,8- 

3  Cf.  Gen.  22.13. 


116  SAINT  AMBROSE 

ram  Is  the  Word,  full  of  tranquillty  and  restraint  and  patience. 
By  this  Is  shown  that  wisdom  is  a  good  sacrifice  and  belongs 
to  one  who  Is  duly  wise  and  making  atonement  to  under- 
stand the  purpose  of  an  action.  The  Prophet  David  therefore 
says:  'Offer  up  the  sacrifice  of  justice;4  Sacrifice  belongs 
to  justice  as  It  does  to  wisdom. 

Note,  therefore,  that  the  mind  which  is  working  is  aglow 
and  warm  like  fire.  Note  the  thing  known  to  the  Intelligence, 
the  subject  matter.  Where  Is  the  third  ingredient,  the  under- 
standing of  the  purpose?  You  see  color,  but  where  Is  'seeing'? 
You  perceive  objects,  but  where  Is  'perceiving3?  All  men  do 
not  see  'matter,3  and  therefore  God  gives  the  gift  of  under- 
standing and  perceiving  and  seeing. 

Therefore,  the  Word  of  God  Is  our  purpose,  that  Is,  the 
end  and  fulfillment  of  all  our  questioning.  This  Word  Is 
infused  Into  the  wise  and  puts  an  end  to  doubt.  Yet,  even 
men  who  refuse  to  believe  in  the  coming  of  Christ  refute 
themselves  very  aptly  with  the  result  that  they  profess  what 
they  think  they  should  not  profess.  They  say  that  the  cram' 
is  the  Word  of  God,  yet  they  do  not  believe  in  the  mystery  of 
the  Passion,  although  the  Word  of  God  Is,  In  that  mystery, 
the  very  one  in  whom  the  sacrifice  has  been  fulfilled. 

Let  us  first  enkindle  In  us  the  fire  of  the  mind,  so  that  It 
will  be  at  work  In  us.  Let  us  seek  the  subject  matter,  which 
gives  us  that  which  feeds  the  soul,  as  if  seeking  It  In  dark- 
ness, for  the  patriarchs  did  not  know  what  manna  was, 
yet  they  found  it,  Scripture  says,  and  they  called  it  the  speech 
and  Word  of  God.5  From,  this  continual  and  ever-flowing 
source  all  learning  flows  and  streams. 

This  is  a  heavenly  food.  It  Is  signified  by  the  person  of 
the  one  speaking:  'Behold  I  will  rain  bread  from  heaven  for 
you.3  This  is  the  cause,  for  God  works,  watering  minds  with 


4  Ps.  4.6. 

5  Cf.   Exod.    16.16. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  117 

the  dew  of  wisdom;  the  subject  matter  Is  that  which  delights 
souls  seeing  and  tasting  it  and  asking  whence  comes  that 
which  is  more  splendid  than  light  and  sweeter  than  honey. 
They  are  given  the  answer  in  the  Scripture  narrative:  This 
Is  the  bread  which  the  Lord  hath  given  you  to  eat.'6  And  this 
is  the  Word  of  God  which  God  has  set  in  orderly  array.  By 
it  the  souls  of  the  prudent  are  fed  and  delighted;  it  is  clear 
and  sweet,  shining  with  the  splendor  of  truth,  and  softening 
with  the  sweetness  of  virtue  the  souls  of  those  who  hear  It. 

The  Prophet  [Moses]  learned  the  cause  of  what  he  had 
to  accomplish.  When  he  was  sent  to  the  king  of  Egypt  to 
free  the  people  of  God,  he  said:  'Who  am  I  that  I  should  go 
and  should  bring  forth  the  people  from  the  power  of  the 
king?'  The  Lord  answered:  £I  will  be  with  thee.'.  Again 
Moses  asked:  'What  shall  I  say  to  them  if  they  ask  me: 
"Who  is  the  Lord  who  sent  thee,  what  Is  his  name?"  '  The 
Lord  said:  'I  AM  WHO  AM.  You  will  say:  HE  WHO  is  hath 
sent  me/7  This  is  the  true  name  of  God,  'Eternal  Being.' 
Therefore,  the  Apostle  says  of  Christ:  Tor  the  Son  of  God, 
Jesus  Christ,  who  is  in  you,  who  was  preached  among  you 
by  us — by  me  and  Sylvanus  and  Timothy — was  not  now 
"Yes"  and  now  uNo,"  but  only  "Yes"  was  In  him.'8  Moses 
answered:  clf  they  will  not  believe  me,  nor  hear  my  voice, 
but  they  will  say:  "The  Lord  hath  not  appeared  to  thee," 
what  shall  I  say  to  them?'  God  gave  him  signs  to  perform 
so  that  it  would  be  believed  that  he  was  sent  by  the  Lord.  A 
third  time  Moses  said:  'I  am  not  worthy  and  I  have  a  weak 
voice,  and  a  slow  tongue,  how  will  Pharao  hear  me?}  He  was 
told:  'Go,  I  will  open  thy  mouth  and  I  will  teach  thee  what 
thou  shalt  speak.'9 

The  questions  in  the  middle  of  the  passage  and  the  answers 

6  fixed.   16.4,15. 

7  Exod.  S.I  1-14. 

8  2    Cor.    1.19. 

9  Exod.  4.1,10,14. 


118  SAINT  AMBROSE 

contain  the  seeds  and  science  of  wisdom.  And  the  end,  too, 
is  pleasing,  because  God  says:  'I  will  be  with  thee.'10 
Although  He  gave  him  certain  signs  to  use,  when  Moses 
doubted,  so  that  you  might  know  that  the  signs  were  for 
those  who  would  not  believe,  but  the  promise  for  believers, 
God  gave  an  answer,  taking  into  consideration  the  frailty  of 
his  merit  or  of  his  devotion:  CI  will  open  thy  mouth,  and  I 
will  teach  thee  what  thou  shall  speak.'  Thus  a  perfect  end 
or  purpose  was  kept. 

You  have  this  also  in  the  Gospel:  'Ask,  and  it  shall  be 
given  you;  seek,  and  you  shall  find;  knock,  and  it  shall  be 
opened  to  you.511  Ask  from  the  cause,  that  is,  seek  from  the 
Author.  You  have  as  the  subject  matter  spiritual  qualities  by 
which  you  seek;  knock,  and  God  discloses  the  Word  to  you. 
The  mind  is  that  which  seeks,  which  works  like  fire;  the 
vigor  of  the  mind  works  upon  spiritual  qualities  as  fire  does 
upon  wood;  and  God  discloses  the  Word  to  you — this  is  the 
end  or  purpose.  Elsewhere,  too,  in  the  Gospel  we  have  the 
words:  cBut  when  they  deliver  you  up,  do  not  be  anxious 
how  or  what  you  are  to  speak;  for  what  you  are  to  speak 
will  be  given  you  in  that  hour.  For  it  is  not  you  who  are 
speaking,  but  the  Spirit  of  your  Father  who  speaks  through 
you.'12 

You  have  this,  too,  in  Genesis  when  Isaac  says:  'How  did 
you  find  it  so  quickly,  my  son?'  He  answered:  'The  Lord 
your  God  let  me  come  upon  it.'13  God  is  the  end.  He 
who  seeks  in  the  Lord  finds;  Laban  was  a  man  who  did  not 
seek  in  the  Lord;  because  he  sought  idols,  he  did  not  find.14 

He  [Isaac]  observed  very  well  what  are  called  the  rules 
and  distinctions  of  speech.  The  first  distinction  is:  'Set  your 

10  Excd.  3.12. 

11  Matt.  7.7. 

12  Matt.  10.19. 

13  Gen.  27.20. 

14  Cf.  Gen.  31.33. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  119 

game  near  me,  my  son,  that  I  may  eat/15  He  arouses  and 
enkindles  his  son's  mind  by  a  sort  of  fire  of  exhortation  so 
that  he  will  work  and  go  in  search.  The  second  distinction 
is:  'How  did  you  find  it  so  quickly,  my  son?'  This  is  in  the 
form  of  a  question.  The  third  distinction  is  an  answer:  'The 
Lord  your  God  let  me  come  upon  it.'16  The  end  or  purpose 
is  God  who  accomplishes  and  perfects  all  things;  about  this 
there  must  be  no  doubt. 

There  is  also  a  distinction  about  things  which  spring  up 
of  their  own  accord:  'You  do  not  sow,  you  will  not  reap,517 
for,  although  cultivation  stimulates  the  growth  of  seeds, 
nature  works  in  them  by  a  certain  power  so  that  they  do 
spring  up. 

Thus,  the  Apostle  says:  CI  have  planted,  Apollo  watered, 
but  God  has  given  growth.  So  then  neither  he  who  plants  is 
anything,  nor  he  who  waters,  but  God  who  gives  the 
growth.'18  God  makes  His  gift  to  you  in  the  spirit,  and  the 
Lord  grows  in  your  heart.  Act,  therefore,  so  that  He  may 
breathe  upon  you  and  grow.  Then  you  may  reap.  But  if  you 
do  not  sow  you  will  not  reap.  You  are  warned,  as  it  were, 
that  you  should  sow;  you  have  not  sowed,  you  will  not 
reap — it  is  a  proverb.  The  final  action  is  included  in  the 
first  act.  Sowing  is  the  beginning;  reaping  is  the  end. 

Learn  from  me,  nature  says.  She  is  a  help  to  the  learner. 
God  is  the  Author  of  nature.  It  is  also  through  God  that  we 
learn  well,  because  it  belongs  to  nature  to  learn  by  the  heart. 
The  hard  of  heart  do  not  learn.  There  is  growth  in  the 
nature  which  has  the  divine  gift  of  grace.  God  gives  to  it 
full  accomplishment  and  perfection,  that  is,  the  most  excellent 
and  divine  nature  and  substance  of  the  Trinity. 

Farewell,  and  love  us  as  you  do,  because  we  love  you. 

15  Gen.  27.25. 

16  Gen.  27.20. 

17  Lev.  25.11. 

18  1  Cor.  3.6,7. 


120  SAINT  AMBROSE 

22.  Ambrose  to  Marcellus1 

There  has  devolved  upon  me  the  business  of  your  lawsuit, 
which  you  did  not  initiate  but  only  carried  on  from  a  sense 
of  duty  and  a  desire  to  prove  your  generosity  toward  the 
poor.  I  had  to  take  cognizance  of  it  because  of  the  imperial 
enactment2  and  because  I  was  obligated  by  the  authority  of 
the  blessed  Apostle  and  the  nature  and  conduct  of  your 
learning  and  life.  Since  I  myself  rebuked  you  for  keeping 
alive  your  age-long  quarrel,  the  parties  in  question  put  upon 
me  the  obligation  of  hearing  the  case. 

I  was  ashamed  to  refuse,  I  admit,  especially  since  the 
lawyers  for  each  party  challenged  one  another,  saying  that 
it  would  be  clear  from  my  investigation  to  which  party  the 
decision  of  law  and  right  would  incline  the  more.  In  short, 
the  days  had  almost  drawn  to  a  close — only  a  few  hours 
remained  while  the  prefect  was  hearing  other  cases — when 
the  lawyers  in  the  suit  asked  an  adjournment  of  a  few  days 
so  that  I  might  preside  as  judge.  These  Christian  men  were 
most  eager  that  the  prefect  should  not  be  the  judge  of  a 
matter  under  the  jurisdiction  of  a  bishop.  They  said,  also, 
that  certain  things  had  been  done  in  an  unseemly  fashion 
and  each  party  according  to  his  own  inclination  doubted  what 
fell  to  a  bishop's  jurisdiction,  what  to  a  prefect's. 

Overwhelmed  by  these  events  and  reminded  of  the 
Apostle's  precept  which  reproves  and  says:  'Is  it  not  those 
inside  whom  you  judge?33  and  clf,  therefore,  you  have  cases 
about  worldly  matters  to  be  judged,  appoint  those  who  are 
rated  as  nothing  in  the  Church  to  judge.  To  shame  you  I 
say  it.  Can  it  be  that  there  is  no  wise  man  among  you 
competent  to  settle  a  case  in  his  brother's  behalf?  But  brother 

1  Undated. 

2  Cf.  Sozomen  1.9. 

3  I  Cor.  5.12. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  121 

goes  to  law  with  brother  and  that  before  unbelievers?'4 — I 
accepted  the  hearing  on  condition  that  I  might  be  the  judge 
of  a  compromise.  I  saw  that,  if  I  handed  down  a  decision 
in  your  favor,  the  other  party  might  not  acquiesce;  while, 
if  the  sentence  was  carried  in  his  favor,  your  defense  and  that 
of  your  sister  might  break  down.  The  rendering  of  a 
decision  was  very  difficult.  The  favor  resulting  from  our 
priestly  relationship  might  have  seemed  suspect  to  them;  too, 
for  when  does  a  defeated  man  ever  think  his  opponent  more 
righteous  than  himself?  Truly,  the  costs  of  this  long-standing 
suit  would  have  been  unbearable  to  each  if  its  outcome 
failed  to  provide  some  gain  or,  at  least,  the  comforting 
thought  that  one  had  acted  generously. 

I  saw  that  the  issue  was  doubtful,  that  the  law  was  subject 
to  dispute,  while  numerous  pleas  were  being  entered  by 
each  party  and  petitions  of  an  invidious  sort  presented  to  the 
emperor  which  contained,  in  addition,  charges  of  tampering 
with  his  decrees.  Perceiving,  also,  that  if  your  opponent  won 
the  case  he  would  sue  for  double  the  mesne  profits  and  for 
the  costs  of  the  protracted  suit,  while  it  was  unbecoming 
your  office  to  demand  the  costs  of  the  case,  and  that  it  was 
not  suitable  for  you  to  claim  any  of  the  profits  which  as 
owner  you  had  received,  I  preferred  to  settle  the  case  by 
compromise  rather  than  aggravate  the  situation  by  a  decision. 
In  addition,  there  is  the  serious  consideration  that,  although 
the  dispute  were  settled,  ill-will  would  remain  and  be  de- 
structive of  good-feeling. 

Involved  in  these  difficulties  and  feeling  that  the  office 
of  the  priest,  the  sex  of  the  defendant  and  the  serious  state 
of  widowhood,  and  regard  for  a  friend  having  a  threefold 
and  weighty  claim  on  me,  I  thought  I  should  be  sure  to 
desire  no  one's  defeat,  but  everyone's  success.  And  my 
wishes  did  not  fail;  you  all  were  victors  in  keeping  with  your 

4  1    Cor.  6.4-6. 


122  SAINT  AMBROSE 

kinship,  with  nature,  and  with  the  saying  of  Scripture :  ' Why 
not  rather  suffer  wrong?  Why  not  rather  be  defrauded?'5 

Perhaps  you  feel  you  are  in  a  worse  state  because  of  the 
loss  of  the  suit  and  the  money  costs.  But,  indeed,  for  bishops 
the  losses  of  this  world  are  better  than  its  gains:  clt  is  more 
blessed  to  give  than  to  receive.'6  Perhaps  you  will  say  I 
ought  not  to  have  been  exposed  to  fraud,  to  have  suffered 
injury,  to  have  undergone  loss.  Well?  Would  you  have 
inflicted  these?  And  even  though  you  did  no  such  things,  the 
other  party  would  have  complained  of  suffering  them.  Con- 
sider, therefore,  what  the  Apostle  says:  cWhy  not  rather 
suffer  wrong?3  It  almost  seems  as  though  one  who  does  not 
suffer  wrong  inflicts  it,  for  the  stronger  one  should  bear  it. 

Why  am  I  discussing  this  with  you  as  if  it  were  my  concern, 
not  yours?  You  made  the  offer,  acting  as  an  arbiter  of  the 
case,  suggesting  that  your  sister  own  part  of  the  estate  during 
her  lifetime,  but  that  after  her  death  the  entire  property  go 
to  your  brother.  Nor  must  anyone  sue  him  in  your  name  or 
in  that  of  the  Church,  but,  if  he  chooses,  he  may  hold  it 
without  giving  anything  to  the  Church.  When  I  announced 
this  and  acclaimed  the  great  flood  of  generosity  thus  manifest 
in  your  heart,  your  brother  declared  that  the  offer  suited 
him,  provided  there  remained  no  fear  of  injury  to  the 
property.  How,  he  asked,  could  a  woman,  a  widow  besides, 
manage  taxable  property?  What  would  be  the  advantage  to 
him  if  you  yielded  the  right  of  ownership  while  he  thought 
greater  losses  would  accrue  to  him  from  the  poor  tending  of 
the  farm? 

The  lawyers  on  both  sides  were  influenced  by  his  remarks; 
so,  with  the  consent  of  all,  it  was  determined  that  the 
honorable  Laetus  should  receive  the  farm  and  pay  yearly  to 
your  sister  a  fixed  quantity  of  grain,  wine,  and  oil.  Your 

5  1   Cor.  6.7. 

6  Acts  20.35. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  123 

sister  thus  lost  no  rights,  but  only  her  anxiety;  she  relinquished 
not  the  fruits  but  the  labor,  not  the  revenues  but  the  gamble, 
as  it  is  often  called,  on  an  uncertain  return.  If  violent  wind 
storms  destroy  the  harvest,  your  sister  will  still  have  the  yield 
that  is  hers.  If  crops  wither  during  an  excessive  drought, 
your  sister  will  still  have  her  crops  undiminished.  Laetus  will 
assume  the  conditions  of  his  offer,  and,  should  pressure  of 
necessity  or  extraordinary  taxes  become  severe,  your  sister, 
by  reason  of  your  kindness,  will  be  clear  of  Laetus'  losses,  while 
Laetus  will  console  himself  with  the  management  of  the 
estate. 

Thus  you  have  all  been  winners :  Laetus  in  gaining  a  right 
over  the  property  which  he  did  not  have;  your  sister  by  now 
enjoying  the  yearly  profits  without  dispute  or  strife;  but  no 
one  won  so  completely  and  gloriously  as  yourself,  for,  in 
addition  to  your  wish  to  assure  your  sister  of  your  generosity, 
you  have  brought  her  to  a  share  in  your  fraternal  union. 
You  conceded  to  your  brother  the  property,  to  your  sister 
the  use  and  enjoyment  of  it.  Nothing  is  lost  to  the  Church 
which  is  gained  for  piety;  charity  is  not  a  loss  but  a  gain  for 
Christ;  the  fruit  of  the  Holy  Spirit  is  charity.7  The  case, 
then,  has  been  concluded  in  the  manner  prescribed  by  the 
Apostle.  We  lamented  formerly  that  you  were  engaged  in  this 
lawsuit,  but  the  strife  has  enabled  you  to  clothe  yourself  in 
the  form  of  the  apostolic  life  and  precept.  The  one  was 
unbecoming  your  priesthood;  this  transaction  meets  the 
requirements  even  of  the  Apostle. 

Fear  not  that  the  Church  will  be  rendered  destitute  and 
out  of  reach  of  your  generosity.  She  partakes  of  your  fruits, 
fruits  even  more  plentiful,  for  she  has  the  fruits  of  your 
teaching,  the  service  of  your  life.  She  has  a  richness  which 
you  have  watered  with  your  discipline.  Rich  in  these  returns 
she  seeks  no  temporal  ones,  for  she  has  those  which  are 

7  Cf.  Gal.  5.22. 


1 24  SAINT  AMBROSE 

eternal.  You  have  added  not  only  the  fruits  mentioned  by  the 
Apostle,  but  those  found  in  the  Gospels,  for  the  Lord  said: 
'Make  friends  for  yourselves  with  the  mammon  of  wicked- 
ness.'8 You  have  made  friends,  even  more  marvelously,  of 
your  opponents.  You  made  brothers  return  to  the  laws  of 
kindred,  and  you  assure  them  by  this  charity  and  grace  that 
they  will  be  received  into  eternal  dwellings. 

Thus,  under  the  guidance  of  Christ  and  the  direction  of 
two  bishops,  namely,  yourself  who  first  supplied  the  pattern 
outline,  and  myself  who  passed  sentence,  the  peace  which 
we  reached  will  not  fail;  for  where  so  many  vowed  their 
faith  infidelity  cannot  but  be  punished. 

Laetus  will  plow  the  land  for  his  sister,  whereas  formerly 
he  grudged  her  the  services  of  others.  Laetus  will  gather  the 
harvest  for  his  sister,  though  before  he  could  not  bear  the 
gifts  of  others;  he  will  bear  the  fruits  to  his  sister's  barns 
and  do  so  gladly,9  renewing  now  the  meaning  of  his  name. 

Meanwhile,  being  conformed  to  the  Apostle  of  Christ,  and 
assuming  the  prophetic  authority,  you  shall  say  to  the  Lord: 
'You  have  possessed  my  reins.'10  This  possession  is  more 
fitting  for  Christ,  that  He  possess  the  virtues  of  His  priest, 
that  He  receive  the  fruits  of  purity  and  continency,  and, 
what  is  more,  of  charity  and  peace. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 


23.  Ambrose  to  Sabinus  (c.  390) 

You  sent  back  my  little  books  which  I  shall  esteem  more 
highly  owing  to  your  criticism  of  them.  In  fact,  I  am  sending 
you  others,  not  to  be  delighted  with  your  favorable  criticism, 

8  Luke  16,9. 

9  A  play  on  his  name,  Laetus,  meaning  'glad.' 
10  Ps.   138.13. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  125 

but  lured  by  the  frank  appraisal  which  I  asked  of  you  and 
which  you  promised  to  give.  I  much  prefer  that  if  something 
puzzles  you  it  be  corrected  by  your  criticism  before  it  gets 
abroad  beyond  recall,  rather  than  for  you  to  praise  what 
others  will  censure.  Therefore,  I  am  asking  you  to  be  the 
judge  of  the  works  you  requested,  not  so  much  wanting  you 
to  read  the  things  I  sometimes  make  available  to  all,  but  to 
submit  them  to  the  weight  of  your  opinion.  This  criticism,  as 
was  said  of  old,1  will  not  need  long  sittings  and  delay.  It  is 
easy  for  you  to  pass  judgment  on  my  writings. 

I  thought  that  at  your  invitation  I  should  have  recourse 
to  you;  it  is  now  your  turn  to  discern  clearly  and  consider 
carefully  the  corrections  so  that  you  may  not  be  guilty  of 
the  faults  which  have  crept  upon  me  unawares.  For  some 
reason  or  other,  [in  my  case]  because  of  a  mist  of  ignorance 
which  envelops  me,  one's  own  writings  are  deceptive  and 
escape  the  notice  of  the  ear,  and  as  one  delights  in  his 
children,  even  though  they  be  deformed,  so  the  writer's 
discourses,  however  inelegant,  flatter  him.  Frequently,  a 
remark  is  made  unguardedly,  or  taken  in  a  bad  sense,  or 
expressed  with  ambiguity.  Thoughts  which  are  to  be  sub- 
jected to  another's  criticism  should  be  weighed  and  sifted  of 
every  grain  of  evil,  not  for  our  own  benefit,  but  to  facilitate 
the  other  person's  judgment. 

Accordingly,  kindly  lend  an  attentive  ear,  study  all  the 
details,  test  the  remarks,  see  if  there  is  any  vain  flattery  and 
persuasiveness  instead  of  sincere  faith  and  sobriety  of  ex- 
pression. Note  the  words  of  doubtful  value  or  false  connota- 
tion, that  an  adversary  may  not  take  any  of  them  in  his 
favor.  Let  it  be  toned  down  if  it  begins  to  be  argumentative. 
That  book  is  in  a  bad  way  which  is  defended  only  by  its 
champion.  The  book  which  goes  forth  without  a  mediator 
speaks  for  itself.  But  this  book  of  ours  will  not  leave  us 

1  Cf.  Cicero,  Epist.  ad  jam.  9.3. 


1 26  SAINT  AMBROSE 

unless  it  has  your  authority.  When  you  bid  it  go  with  your 
approval  it  will  be  trusted  on  its  own. 

However,  since  the  'kingdom  of  God  is  not  in  word,  but 
in  power/2  if  a  word  troubles  you  consider  the  force  of  the 
expression.  The  expression  is  the  opinion  on  faith  which  we 
hold  against  the  Sabellians  and  Arians,  an  opinion  handed 
down  to  us  from  our  elders;  namely,  that  we  venerate  God 
the  Father  and  His  only-begotten  Son  and  the  Holy  Spirit; 
that  this  Trinity  is  of  one  substance  and  majesty  and  divinity; 
that  in  this  name  of  Father,  Son  and  Holy  Spirit  we  baptize,3 
as  it  is  written  that  the  Son,  though  co-eternal  with  the 
Father,  took  flesh,  was  born  of  the  Holy  Spirit  and  of  the 
Virgin  Mary,  equal  to  the  Father  in  divinity,  having  the 
nature  of  God,  that  is,  in  all  the  fullness  of  the  divinity 
which  dwells  in  Him,  as  the  Apostle  says,4  corporeally,  and 
that  in  the  person  of  man  He  took  the  nature  of  a  slave 
and  humbled  Himself  even  to  death.5 

This,  then,  is  our  statement  also  against  Photinus;  against 
Apollinaris  this  is  a  lawful  safeguard,  the  expression  that 
just  as  in  His  nature  as  God  He  lacked  nothing  of  the 
divine  nature  and  fullness,  so  in  the  form  of  man  He  lacked 
nothing  that  would  cause  Him  to  be  judged  an  imperfect 
man,  for  He  came  to  save  the  whole  man.  It  was  not  fitting 
that  He  who  completed  a  good  work  in  others  should  allow 
this  to  be  imperfect  in  Himself.  If  He  lacked  anything  as 
man,  then  He  did  not  redeem  all;  -and  if  He  did  not  redeem 
all,  He  deceived  us,  since  He  said  that  He  had  come  to  save 
all  men.  But,  since  it  is  impossible  for  God  to  deceive,6  He 
did  not  deceive  us.  Therefore,  since  He  came  to  redeem  all 

2  1   Cor.  4.20. 

3  Cf.   Matt.  27.19. 

4  Cf.   2    Cor.    2.9. 

5  Cf.  Phil.  2.8. 

6  Cf.  Heb.  6.18. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  127 

men  and  save  them,  He  certainly  took  upon  Himself  the 
whole  of  man's  perfection. 

This,  as  you  remember,  is  our  stand.  If  the  words  are  at 
all  disturbing  they  do  not  harm  the  faith,  for  the  mind 
which  continues  steadfast  guards  against  doubtful  meanings 
and  preserves  one  from  error. 

These  remarks  which  are  a  prelude  to  other  discussions  I 
shall  put  in  the  collection  of  our  letters,  if  you  are  willing, 
and  give  them  a  number.7  Thus  they  will  be  commended 
because  of  your  name  and  through  our  letters  to  one  another 
our  mutual  love  in  the  Lord  will  be  increased.  Read  in 
order  to  criticize  and  tell  me  what  displeases  you,  for  true 
love  is  proved  by  constancy.  I  am  following  the  custom  of 
old  men,  writing  letters  in  an  ordinary  and  friendly  style, 
weaving  in  any  words  of  holy  Scripture  that  come  to  me. 

Farewell,  my  brother,  and  love  one  who  loves  you,  for 
I  love  you  very  much. 


24.  Ambrose  to  Sabinus  (c.  390) 

I  have  sent  you  the  volume  you  asked  for,  written  more 
clearly  and  neatly  than  the  one  I  forwarded  some  time  ago, 
so  that  by  ease  in  reading  it  your  judgment  will  in  no  way 
be  hindered.  The  original  book  was  written  not  for  appear- 
ance's sake  but  out  of  necessity.  For  I  do  not  dictate  all  my 
writings,1  particulary  at  night,  when  I  do  not  wish  to 
trouble  and  burden  others.  Then,  too,  words  which  are 

7  Evidence  that  Ambrose  collected  some  of  his  letters  during  his  life- 
time. 


1  Pauhnus  (Vit.  38)  says  he  did  not  decline  the  task  of  writing  books 
with  his  own  hand  unless  his  body  was  kept  from  so  doing  by  some 
infirmity. 


128  SAINT  AMBROSE 

dictated  need  to  roll  out  with  a  certain  impetuosity  and  in  a 
rapid  flow. 

But  I  who  am  desirous  of  selecting  with  nicety  the  words 
I  use  in  my  old  age,  employing  a  familiar  style  and  proceed- 
ing at  a  slow  pace,  feel  it  is  more  suitable  that  I  put  my 
own  hand  to  the  stylus,  not  to  appear  to  be  lustily  pouring 
forth  words,  but  concealing  them,  so  that  I  will  not  have  to 
be  ashamed  in  the  presence  of  another  who  is  doing  the 
writing,  but  conscious  only  of  myself,  without  a  witness, 
and  weighing  with  the  ear  and  also  with  the  eye  the  things 

1  write.  For,  the  tongue  is  swifter  than  the  hand,  as  Scripture 
says:  'My  tongue  is  the  pen  of  a  ready  scribe.32 

Perhaps  you  will  say  this  refers  to  the  speed  of  the  writer. 
You  are  not  mistaken  in  the  meaning  that  only  the  speed  of 
the  ready  scribe  can  catch  the  words  of  prophetic  language. 
The  Apostle  Paul  also  used  to  write  with  his  own  hand,  as 
he  himself  says:  'I  am  writing  to  you  with  my  own  hand.53 
He  said  this  for  reasons  of  honor,  but  we  [say  so]  because 
of  shame. 

However,  now  that  you  have  my  opinion  about  the  books, 
let  us  interchange  letters,  for  they  serve  us  who  are  widely 
apart  to  unite  with  one  another  in  affection,  and  the  image 
of  their  presence  is  vivid  between  the  absent,  and  written 
discourse  unites  those  who  are  apart.  By  this  means,  too,  we 
join  heart  with  our  friend  and  pour  out  our  thoughts  to  him. 

If,  as  you  suggest,  there  is  a  savor  of  older  writers  in 
my  letters,  not  only  do  our  hearts  seem  united  by  this  progress 
toward  true  learning,  but  our  conversation  is  expressed  in 
a  freer  and  fuller  form,  with  the  result  that  mutual  inquiry 
and  reply  will  seem  to  unite  us  for  battle  and  in  this  activity 
we  shall  stimulate  and  encourage  one  another  as  friends. 

2  Ps.  44.2. 

3  Gal.  6.1L 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  129 

Need  I  cite  examples  of  our  forebears,  who  by  their 
letters  instilled  faith  into  the  hearts  of  the  people  and  wrote 
to  whole  nations  together,  showing  themselves  present  though 
writing  far  away,  as  did  the  holy  Apostle4  who  says  that  he 
was  absent  in  body  but  present  in  spirit,  not  only  when  he 
was  writing  but  also  when  passing  judgment?  Finally,  he 
while  absent  condemned  and  absolved  by  letter.  For  Paul's 
letter  was  a  kind  of  image  of  his  presence  and  a  pattern  of 
his  work. 

His  letters,  he  says,  were  not  like  the  letters  of  others, 
'weighty  and  telling,'  but  'their  bodily  appearance  weak  and 
speech  of  no  account.5  Such  was  his  letter,  such  the  pattern 
of  his  preaching  as  was  the  reality  of  the  worker.  'What  we 
are  by  letters,  when  absent,  such  are  we  also  in  deed  when 
bodily  present.'5  In  his  letters  he  expressed  the  likeness  of 
his  presence  and  in  his  work  he  stamped  the  fulfillment  of 
his  promise. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  as  you  do,  because  we  also  love  you. 


25.  Ambrose  to  Sabinus  (Spring,  387) 

After  reading  my  Hexaemeron1  you  determined  to  ask  me 
if  I  have  added  anything  on  paradise,  and  indicated  that  you 
are  very  anxious  to  learn  my  ideas  about  it.  I  wrote  on 
this  subject  a  long  time  ago  when  I  was  not  yet  an 
experienced  bishop. 

I  have  found  that  most  persons5  opinions  about  this  are 

4  Cf.  1  Cor.  5.3. 

5  2  Cor.  10.10,11. 


1  A  series  of  nine  sermons  on  the  creation,  delivered  on  six  consecutive 
days  in  April,  387   (PL  11123-274) . 


130  SAINT  AMBROSE 

divided.  Josephus,2  simply  as  a  historian,  says  the  place 
was  planted  with  trees  and  many  shrubs  and  watered, 
moreover,  by  a  river  which  branched  into  four  streams. 
After  its  waters  were  gathered  into  one,  this  earth  was  not 
drained  entirely  nor  did  its  springs  become  dry.  Even  today 
it  breaks  forth  into  fountains  and  sends  streams  of  water 
with  which,  like  a  loving  mother,  from  full  udders  it  nourishes 
its  young. 

Some  hold  one  opinion,  others  another,  yet  all  agree  that 
in  paradise3  were  planted  the  tree  of  life  and  the  tree  of 
knowledge  which  distinguishes  good  and  evil,  together  with 
other  trees,  full  of  strength,  full  of  life-giving  powers,  breath- 
ing and  rational  creatures.  Wherefore  one  concludes  that  the 
real  paradise  cannot  be  considered  earthly,  nor  planted  in 
any  particular  spot,  but  situated  in  the  principal  part  of  our 
nature,  which  is  animated  and  vivified  by  the  virtues  of  the 
soul  and  the  infusion  of  the  spirit  of  God. 

Moreover,  Solomon,  by  inspiration,  clearly  declared  that 
paradise  is  within  man.  And  because  he  expresses  mysteries 
of  the  soul  and  the  word,  or  of  Christ  and  the  Church,  he 
says  of  the  virgin  soul,  or  of  the  Church  which  he  desired 
to  present  a  chaste  virgin  to  Christ:4  £My  sister,  my  spouse, 
is  a  garden  enclosed,  a  garden  enclosed,  a  fount  sealed  up.'5 

The  word  'paradise'  in  Greek  is  rendered  'garden'  in 
Latin.  Susanna  was  in  a  paradise  (orchard),6  as  we  read 
also  in  Latin.  And  Adam  was  in  a  paradise,7  which  is  also 
our  reading.  Do  not  be  disturbed  if  some 'Latin  texts  have 
the  reading  'garden3  and  others  c paradise.* 

Where  the  virgin  is,  there,  too,  is  the  chaste  wife.  The 
chosen  virgin  holds  her  seal  and  enclosures,  both  in  a 

2  Josephus,  Antiq.   1.1.2. 

3  Cf.   Gen.   2.9. 

4  Cf.  2   Cor.   11.2. 

5  Cant.    4.12. 

6  Cf.   Dan.   13.7. 

7  Cf.  Gen.  2.8. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  131 

paradise,  so  that  in  the  shady  bowers  of  virtues  she  may  be 
shielded  from  the  fevers  of  the  body  and  the  passions  of  the 
flesh. 

Therefore,  paradise  is  in  the  higher  part  of  our  nature, 
luxuriant  with  the  growths  of  many  opinions,  where  God  in 
the  beginning  put  the  tree  of  life,  that  is,  the  root  of  piety, 
for  this  is  the  very  substance  of  our  life,  if  we  give  due 
homage  to  our  Lord  and  God. 

He  has  planted  in  us,  too,  a  nursery  of  the  knowledge  of 
good  and  evil,  for  man  alone  among  other  living  creatures 
of  earth  has  the  knowledge  of  good  and  evil.  There  are 
also  many  other  plants  whose  fruits  are  virtues. 

Now,  since  God  knew  that  man's  affection,  capable  of 
grasping  knowledge,  would  incline  more  quickly  toward 
cunning  than  the  perfection  of  wisdom  (for  the  quality  of 
His  handiwork  could  not  be  hidden  from  the  Judge  who 
had  set  down  definite  boundaries  in  our  souls),  He  wished 
to  eliminate  cunning  from  paradise  and,  as  the  provident 
Author  of  our  salvation,  to  put  therein  the  zest  for  life  and 
for  the  practice  of  virtue.  So  He  ordered  man  to  eat  of  every 
tree  in  paradise,  but  not  of  the  tree  of  the  knowledge  of 
good  and  evil.8 

Since  every  creature,  however,  is  subject  to  passion,  lust 
stole  into  man's  affections  with  the  stealth  of  a  serpent. 
Moses  was  quite  right  in  representing  pleasure  in  the  likeness 
of  a  serpent:  it  is  prone  on  its  belly  like  a  serpent,  not 
walking  on  feet  or  raised  on  legs,  but  it  glides  along,  so  to 
speak,  with  the  slippery  folded  curves  of  its  whole  body. 
Earth  is  its  food,  as  it  is  the  serpent's,  for  it  has  no  com- 
prehension  of  heavenly  food.  It  feeds  on  things  of  the  body 
and  it  is  changed  into  many  sorts  of  pleasures,  and  bends  to 
and  fro  in  twisting  wreathes.  It  has  venom  in  its  fangs,  and 
with  these  the  dissolute  individual  is  disemboweled,  the 

8  Cf.  Gen.  3.23. 


132  SAINT  AMBROSE 

glutton  destroys  himself,  the  spendthrift  is  undone.  How 
many  men  has  wine  wrecked,  drunkenness  destroyed,  gluttony 
bloated? 

Now  I  know  why  the  Lord  God  breathed  into  the  face  of 
man.9  There  is  the  seat  and  abode  and  enticement  of  lust — in 
the  eyes,  the  ears,  the  nostrils,  the  mouth — [breathed  there] 
in  order  to  fortify  our  senses  against  such  lust.  These  things 
He  infused  into  us  as  the  serpent  did  cunning.  For  it  is 
not  pleasure,  but  labor  and  continuous  meditation,  along 
with  the  grace  of  God,  which  give  perfect  wisdom. 

Yet,  because  the  posterity  of  the  human  race  is  involved 
in  the  snares  of  the  serpent,  let  us  imitate  the  cunning  in 
him  so  as  not  to  run  our  head  into  danger,  but  guard  it 
unharmed  above  all  else,  Tor  our  head  is  Christ.'10  Let  it 
remain  unharmed  so  that  the  serpent's  venom  may  not  have 
power  to  harm  us,  for  'Wisdom  with  riches  is  good,'11  that 
is,  with  faith,  for  those  who  believe  in  the  Lord  have  riches. 

But  if  the  first  man,  who  was  placed  in  paradise  and 
talked  with  God,12  could  fall  so  easily,  though  made  from 
virgin  clay,  but  lately  formed  at  God's  word  and  created, 
not  yet  clotted  with  the  gore  of  homicide  and  slaughter,  not 
polluted  with  shameful  and  unbecoming  deeds,  not  yet 
condemned  in  our  flesh  to  the  curse  of  a  tainted  heredity — 
how  much  more  easily  later  on  has  the  slippery  road  to  sin 
brought  the  human  race  to  a  greater  precipice,  since  one 
generation  in  turn  succeeds  another,  a  generation  more  base 
succeeding  one  less  wicked? 

We  see  how  a  magnet  has  such  natural  force  as  to  attract 
iron  and  communicate  itself  thereto,  as  some  persons,  desirous 
of  experimenting,  have  applied  iron  rings  to  the  magnet  so 

9  Cf.  Gen.  2.7. 

10  1   Cor.   11.3. 

11  Eccle.  7.12. 

12  Cf.  Gen.  2.15. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  133 

that  it  holds  all  of  them  in  the  same  way.  Then,  if  to  the 
ring  to  which  the  magnet  clings  they  add  another  ring  and 
so  on  in  succession,  although  it  penetrates  each  by  its 
natural  strength,  it  holds  the  first  with  a  stronger,  the  last 
with  a  weaker  grasp.  How  much  truer  it  is  that  the  condition 
and  nature  of  the  human  race  has  fallen  from  a  purer  into 
a  less  pure  state  when  it  reaches  the  more  wicked? 

If  the  natural  law  is  weakened  in  substances  which  are 
incapable  of  sin,  how  much  more  is  its  vigor  dulled  by  souls 
and  bodies  tainted  with  evil!  For,  when  evil  had  appeared 
and  innocence  been  destroyed,  there  was  no  one  to  do  good, 
not  even  one.13  The  Lord  came  to  restore  grace  to  nature, 
in  fact,  to  give  it  increase,  that  where  sin  abounded  grace 
might  more  abound.14  It  is  clear,  then,  that  God  is  the 
Author  of  man,  and  that  there  is  one  God,  not  many 
gods — One  who  made  the  world,  and  one  world  only,  not 
many,  as  the  philosophers  maintain. 

First,  therefore,  He  created  the  world  and  then  the 
inhabitants  of  the  world  for  whom  all  the  world  was  to  be  a 
fatherland.  Even  today,  if,  wherever  the  wise  man  goes,  he  is 
a  citizen  and  knows  his  own,  nowhere  considering  himself  a 
mere  pilgrim  or  a  foreigner,  how  much  more  was  that  first 
man  an  inhabitant  of  all  the  world,  and  as  the  Greeks  say, 
a  'cosmopolite,5  for  he  was  the  final  work  of  God,  continually 
talking  with  God,  a  fellow  citizen  of  the  saints,  a  groundbed 
of  virtues?  Placed  over  all  creatures  of  earth,  sea,  and  sky, 
he  considered  the  whole  world  his  dominion;  God  guarded 
him  as  His  handiwork,  and  as  a  good  parent  and  maker 
never  abandoned  him.  In  fine,  He  so  cherished  this  creature 
that  He  redeemed  him  when  he  had  been  lost,  He  received 
him  back  when  he  had  been  banished,  and  when  he  died 
He  brought  him  back  to  life  through  the  Passion  of  His 

13  Cf.  Ps.  13.11. 

14  Cf.    Rom.   5.20. 


1 34  SAINT  AMBROSE 

only-begotten  Son.  God,  then,  is  man's  Author,  and  as  a 
good  artisan  He  loves  His  own  handiwork;  as  a  kind  father 
He  does  not  abandon  one  He  has  redeemed,  but  like  a  good 
householder  reinstates  him  in  the  riches  of  His  own  posses- 
sions. 

Let  us  beware  of  having  that  man,  our  understanding, 
enervated  by  woman,  that  is,  by  passion,  for  she  was  deceived 
and  beguiled  by  the  pleasures  of  the  senses.  Let  her  not 
enslave  and  drag  him  over  to  her  laws  and  purposes.  Let  us 
flee  from  sensual  delight  as  from  a  serpent.  It  has  many 
allurements,  particularly  in  man.  Other  living  things  are 
wooed  by  the  desire  for  food,  but  man,  in  so  far  as  he  has 
more  varied  senses  of  eyes  and  ears,  has  so  much  the  greater 
dangers. 

Farewell,  and  love  us  as  you  do,  because  we  love  you. 


26.  Ambrose  to  Sabinus  (c.  390) 

Since  our  practice  of  writing  letters  gives  you  pleasure, 
too,  whereby  those  who  are  far  apart  indulge  in  conversation 
as  though  they  were  near,  I  shall  continue  often  addressing 
my  writings  to  you,  even  when  I  am  alone.1  For  I  am  never 
less  alone  than  when  I  appear  to  be  alone,  nor  less  at  leisure 
than  when  I  am  at  leisure.  Then,  at  least,  I  summon  at  will 
those  whom  I  will,  and  I  bring  to  my  side  those  whom  I 
love  more  dearly  or  whom  I  think  more  suited  to  me.  No 
one  speaks,  no  one  interrupts  our  talk.  Then  do  I  have  you 
more  and  I  talk  about  the  Scriptures  and  we  chat  together 
at  great  length. 

Mary  was  alone  when  she  spoke  with  an  angel.2  She  was 
alone  when  the  Holy  Spirit  came  to  her  and  the  power  of 

1  A  familiar  saying  of  Cato,  found  in  Cicero,  Off.  3.1.1. 

2  Cf.    Luke    1.28. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  135 

the  Most  High  overshadowed  her.  She  was  alone  and  she 
worked  the  salvation  of  the  world  and  conceived  the  re- 
demption of  all  men.  Peter  was  alone  and  learned  the 
mysteries  about  the  Gentiles  who  were  to  be  sanctified 
throughout  the  world.3  Adam  was  alone  and  he  was  not  an 
offender  because  his  heart  clung  to  God.4  But,  after  the 
woman  was  united  to  him,  he  was  unable  to  cling  to  the 
commands  of  heaven  and  so  he  hid  himself  when  God  walked 
in  paradise. 

Now,  when  I  read  the  sacred  Scriptures,  God  walks  in 
paradise.5  The  Book  of  Genesis  is  a  paradise  where  the  virtues 
of  the  patriarchs  blossom  forth.  Deuteronomy  is  a  paradise 
where  the  commandments  of  the  Law  flourish.  The  Gospel 
is  a  paradise  where  the  tree  of  life  brings  forth  good  fruits 
and  pours  upon  all  men  the  teachings  of  everlasting  hope. 

When  I  hear:  'Love  your  enemies'  and  'Sell  what  you 
have  and  follow  me'6  and  'To  him  who  strikes  thee  on  one 
cheek,  offer  the  other  also/7  and  I  am  not  doing  these 
things,  and  scarcely  love  one  who  loves  me,  and  do  not  sell 
what  I  have,  and  wish  to  avenge  a  wrong  which  I  have 
received,  and  to  get  back  by  force  what  has  been  taken 
from  me — when  Scripture  says  that  I  must  give  more  than 
was  asked  of  me  or  taken  from  me — I  realize  that  I  am 
acting  contrary  to  the  commands  of  God.  And  opening  the 
eyes  of  conscience,  I  see  that  God  is  present,  walking  up  to 
me.  I  want  to  hide,  to  cover  myself,  but  I  am  naked  before 
God  before  whom  all  things  are  na*ked  and  open.8  In 
shame  I  desire  to  cover  up  my  sinful  deeds  like  the  limbs  of 
my  body,  but  because  God  sees  everything  and  because  I 
am  shaded  by  leaves  or  hidden  under  cover,  I  think  I  am 

3  Cf.   Acts   10.9-16. 

4  Cf.  Gen.  2.8. 

5  Cf.  Gen.  3.8. 

6  Matt.    5.44;    19.21. 

7  Luke   6.29. 

8  Cf.  Heb.  4.13. 


136  SAINT  AMBROSE 

in  hiding,  just  because  I  am  covered  with  a  body.  It  is  just 
the  same  garment  of  skin  which  Adam  had  when  he  was 
cast  out  of  paradise,9  not  protected  from  the  cold,  or  saved 
from  reproach,  but  exposed  to  harm  and  blame. 

From  these  words  it  is  clear  that  when  we  are  alone  we 
offer  ourselves  to  God,  then  we  lay  open  to  Him  our  hearts, 
then  we  lay  aside  the  cloak  of  deceit.  Adam  was  alone  when 
he  was  placed  in  paradise;  he  was  alone,  too,  when  he  was 
made  to  the  image  of  God,  but  he  was  not  alone  when  he 
was  cast  out  of  paradise.  The  Lord  Jesus  was  alone  when 
He  redeemed  the  world,10  for  no  ambassador  or  messenger, 
but  the  Lord  Himself  alone,  saved  His  people.  Yet,  He  is 
never  alone  in  whom  the  Father  always  dwells.  So  let  us 
also  be  alone,  that  the  Lord  may  be  with  us. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 


27.  Ambrose  to  Sabinus  (c.  389) 

The  man  whom  you  describe  as  a  sower  of  slanderous 
speech  is  of  very  little  consequence  and  has  already  received 
the  reward  of  his  venomous  remarks.  He  has  been  answered  in 
public  and  has  reaped  openly  what  he  sowed  secretly.  I 
thought  him  a  vain  and  envious  person  before,  and  when  his 
remarks  reached  my  ears  I  at  once  stated  that  he  had  been 
infected  with  the  poison  of  Apollinaris,  who  cannot  tolerate 
the  doctrine  that  our  Lord  Jesus  Christ  became  a  servant 
for  our  sake  in  taking  a  body,  although  the  Apostle  declares 
that  He  took  the  nature  of  a  servant.1  This  is  the  bulwark, 
this  is  the  hedge,  of  our  faith.  One  who  destroys  this  will 

9  Cf.  Gen.  3.23. 
10  Cf.  John   16.32. 

I  Cf.  Phil.  2.7. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS 


137 


himself  be  destroyed,  as  it  is  written:  Tor  the  serpent  will 
gnaw  him  who  breaketh  a  hedge,'2 

At  first  I  sent  a  mild  dispatch  to  him,  saying:  'Why  do 
you  perform  a  good  act  with  evil  purpose?'  For  I  count  it  a 
blessing  if  anyone  reads  my  writings  and  tells  me  what 
disturbs  him,  first  of  all,  because  I  can  be  deceived  in  what 
I  know,  and  many  things  escape  the  ear,  many  sound 
different  to  certain  individuals.  It  is  fine,  if  possible,  to  avoid 
such  things.  Then  I  must  not  be  annoyed  if  things  are  found 
in  my  writing  which  many  consider  disputable,  since  many 
questions  are  asked  about  the  words  of  the  Apostles,  in  the 
Gospels,  and  the  words  of  our  Lord.  Persons  thus  indulge 
their  own  humor,  especially  the  man  who  encompassed  the 
world  to  find  someone  to  censure,  not  to  imitate. 

In  order  to  cavil  at  something  in  my  writings  he  found 
plenty  of  room  for  himself,  for  in  that  passage  where  the 
Lord  Jesus  said :  'I  praise  thee,  Father,  Lord  of  heaven  and 
earth/3  I  stated  that  it  was  intended  to  show  that  God  is 
the  Father  of  the  Son,  and  the  Lord  of  creation.  [This  he 
criticized]  although  in  the  psalm  the  Son  very  plainly  calls 
His  Father  'Lord,'  saying :  'Seeing  me,  they  shake  their  head. 
Help  me,  O  Lord,  my  God.'4  Speaking  as  a  servant,  He  called 
Him  Lord  who  He  knew  was  His  Father,  being  the  equal 
of  God  in  form,  yet  proclaiming  Himself  a  slave  in  the 
substance  of  His  flesh,  for  servitude  belongs  to  the  flesh, 
dominion  to  the  Godhead. 

With  admirable  wisdom  you  note  that  those  things  which 
are  said  in  the  Gospel  have  reference  to  the  time  of  the 
Gospel  when  the  Lord  Jesus  lived  among  men  in  human 
form.  Now  we  no  longer  know  Christ  as  man.5  He  was 

2  Eccle.   10.8. 

3  Matt.   11.25. 

4  Ps.  108.25,26. 

5  C£.    2    Cor.    5.16. 


138  SAINT  AMBROSE 

seen  and  known  thus  to  men  of  former  times,  but  'now  the 
former  things  have  passed  away,  and  all  things  are  made 
new/6  All  things  are  from  God  who  reconciled  us  to  Himself 
through  Christ,  for  we  were  dead,  but  one  became  a  slave 
for  all7  What  shall  I  say:  [only]  ca  slave'?  He  became  sin, 
a  reproach,  a  curse.  The  Apostle  said:  Tor  our  sakes  he 
made  him  to  be  sin,'8  that  the  Lord  Jesus  'was  become  a 
curse,'9  He  said  that  when  He  has  subjected  all  things  to 
Himself,  then  He,  too,  will  be  subject.  Peter,  also,  in  the 
Acts  of  the  Apostles,  said:  cln  the  name  of  Jesus  of  Nazareth 
arise  and  walk.'  He  also  said  there  that  cHe  glorified  His 
Son  Jesus/10  and  no  one  took  issue  with  him  in  regard  to 
the  time.  Moreover,  in  the  Apocalypse,  He  is  also  called  by 
John  cthe  Lamb.'11  And  He  is  called  in  the  psalm  'a  worm 
and  no  man.'12  He  became  all  these  things  so  that  He  might 
dull  the  sting  of  our  death,  that  He  might  take  away  our 
state  of  slavery,  that  He  might  wipe  away  our  curses,  sins, 
and  reproaches.13 

Since  Scripture  contains  these  and  other  divine  things,  and 
many  more  which  you  have  brought  up,  and  which  you 
pointed  out  to  one  who  made  inquiry,  how  can-  anyone  hesi- 
tate to  say  that  these  were  piously  written,  since  they  are  di- 
rected to  the  glory  of  Christ,  not  to  His  disparagement?  If  it 
was  said  of  His  gift,  that  is,  the  manna,  that  'he  did  not  find 
less  that  had  provided  less,  neither  had  he  more  that  had 
gathered  more,'14  could  He  Himself  be  either  diminished  or 
increased?  For,  what  in  Him  was  diminished  when  He  took 

6  2  Cor.  5.17. 

7  Cf.  Phil.  2.7. 

8  2    Cor,    5.21. 

9  Gal.  3.13. 

10  Acts  3,6,13. 

11  Apoc.    5.12. 

12  Ps.   21.7. 

13  Cf.  1  Cor,  15.55. 

14  Exod.  16.18. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  139 

upon  Himself  our  servitude,  our  weakness?  He  was  humbled, 
indeed,  by  being  in  the  form  of  a  slave,  but  He  remained 
unchanged  in  the  glory  of  God  the  Father.  He  was  a  worm 
on  the  cross,  but  He  forgave  the  sins  even  of  His  persecutors. 
He  was  a  reproach  but  at  the  same  time  also  the  Majesty 
of  the  Lord,  as  it  is  written:  'And  the  glory  of  the  Lord 
shall  be  revealed:  and  all  flesh  together  shall  see  the 
salvation  of  God.'15  What  had  He  lost  if  He  had  nothing 
less?  He  had  neither  comeliness  nor  beauty,  but  He  had  the 
fullness  of  divinity.  He  was  considered  weak,  but  He  had 
not  ceased  to  be  the  power  of  God.  He  appeared  a  man, 
but  the  divine  majesty  and  glory  of  the  Father  shone  on 
earth. 

Very  aptly,  then,  the  Apostle  repeats  the  same  expression, 
saying  of  the  Lord  Jesus:  'who  though  he  was  by  nature 
God,  did  not  think  being  equal  to  God  a  thing  to  be  clung 
to,  but  emptied  himself,  taking  the  nature  of  a  slave.'16 
What  is  the  meaning  of  £by  nature  God5  except  the  fullness 
of  the  Godhead,  the  expression  of  His  divine  perfection? 
Although  He  was  in  the  fullness  of  the  Godhead,  He  emptied 
Himself  and  received  the  fullness  of  nature  and  human 
perfection.  Just  as  He  lacked  nothing  as  God,  so  He  did  not 
lack  anything  for  His  completeness  as  man,  and  as  a  result 
He  was  perfect  in  each  nature.  Thus,  David  says  He  was 
'beautiful  above  the  sons  of  men.'17 

The  Apollinarist  is  refuted;  he  has  nowhere  to  turn;  he 
is  caught  in  his  own  nets.  He  Himself  said:  He  took  the 
nature  of  a  slave,  He  was  not  a  slave.  Again,  I  ask,  what  is 
the  meaning  of  cby  nature  God'?  He  answers:  cin  the  reality 
of  God.'18  There  are,'  says  the  Apostle,  'those  who  are  not 

15  Isa.    40.5. 

16  Phil.  2.6,7. 

17  Ps.   44.3. 

18  Phil.  .2.7. 


140  SAINT  AMBROSE 

gods  in  reality.'  I  ask  you  what  is  the  meaning  of  'taking 
the  nature  of  a  slave'?  Without  doubt,  it  means  the  perfection 
of  nature  and  the  human  condition,  in  order  that  He  might 
be  in  the  likeness  of  men.  And  well  did  he  say :  £the  likeness' 
not  of  the  flesh  but  'of  men,'  because  He  was  in  the  same 
flesh.  But,  because  He  alone  was  without  sin,  whereas  all 
men  are  in  sin,  He  was  seen  in  the  appearance  of  man.  So 
the  Prophet  says  too:  'He  is  a  man  and  who  can  know  it?'19 — 
a  man,  indeed,  according  to  the  flesh;  more  than  man  accord- 
ing to  the  divine  operation.  When  He  touched  a  leper,20  He 
seemed  a  man,  but  more  than  man  when  He  cleansed  him. 
And  when  He  wept  for  Lazarus  who  had  died  He  wept  as  a 
man,  but  He  was  superior  to  man  when  He  bade  the  dead 
to  come  forth  with  feet  bound.21  He  seemed  a  man  when 
He  hung  on  the  cross,  but  more  than  man  when  He 
unsealed  the  tombs  and  brought  the  dead  to  life.22 

Let  not  the  venom  of  Apollinaris  flatter  itself  because  it 
is  written:  'And  in  appearance  he  was  found  as  a  man,'23 
for  the  manhood  of  Jesus  is  not  thereby  denied,  but  con- 
firmed, since  elsewhere  Paul  himself  says  of  Him:  'Mediator 
of  God  and  men,  himself  man,  Christ  Jesus.'24  It  is  the 
customary  manner  of  Scripture  so  to  express  itself  as  we  also 
read  in  the  Gospel:  'And  we  saw  his  glory — glory  as  of  the 
only-begotten  of  the  Father.'25  As  He  is  there  called  only- 
begotten  and  it  is  not  denied  that  He  is  the  only-begotten 
Son  of  God,  so  He  is  said  to  be  man,  and  the  perfection  of 
man  that  was  in  Him  is  not  denied. 

Since,  therefore,  He  was  in  the  likeness  of  a  servant,  He 
was  humbled  even  unto  death,  yet  He  remained  in  the  glory 

19  Jer.   17.9. 

20  Cf.    Matt.   8.3. 

21  Cf.  John  11.33,34. 

22  Cf.   Matt.  27.52. 

23  Phil.  2.7. 

24  1   Tim.  2.5. 

25  John   1.14. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  141 

of  God.  In  what  way  was  His  slavery  prejudicial  to  Him? 
We  read  that  He  became  a  slave  because  we  read  that  He 
was  made  of  a  virgin  and  created  in  the  flesh.  Now,  every 
creature  is  a  servant,  as  the  Prophet  says:  Tor  all  things 
serve  thee.'26  Therefore,  God  the  Father  also  says:  CI  have 
found  David,  my  servant:  with  my  holy  oil  I  have  anointed 
him,  He  shall  cry  unto  me:  "Thou  art  my  Father,  the  God 
of  my  salvation."  And  I  will  make  him  my  firstborn.327  And 
in  another  psalm:  'Preserve  my  soul,  because  I  am  holy  to 
thee;  save  thy  servant,'  and  further  on  in  the  same  psalm: 
'Give  thy  strength  to  thy  servant,  and  save  the  son  of  thy 
handmaid.'28  I  have  gathered  together  the  words  of  the 
Father  and  of  the  Son  that  this  man  receive  a  reply,  not  from 
human  arguments,  but  from  the  words  of  God. 

Elsewhere,  He  says:  'Into  thy  hands  I  commend  my 
spirit,'  and  'Thou  hast  set  my  feet  in  a  spacious  place,'  and 
'I  have  become  a  reproach  for  all  my  enemies,'  and  in  the 
same  psalm:  'Make  thy  face  to  shine  upon  thy  servant.'29 
And  through  Isaias,  too,  the  Son  of  God  Himself  says: 
'From  the  womb  of  my  mother  the  Lord  hath  called  my 
name.  And  he  hath  made  my  mouth  like  a  sharp  sword.  In 
the  cover  of  his  hand  he  hath  protected  me.  He  hath  made 
me  like  a  chosen  arrow,  and  in  his  quiver  he  hath  covered 
me.  And  he  said  to  me :  "Thou  art  my  servant,  Israel."  '30 
The  Son  of  God  is  also  called  Israel,  as  [we  read]  elsewhere: 
*O  Jacob,  my  servant,  Israel  my  beloved.'31  He  alone  not 
only  truly  saw  God  the  Father,  but  has  also  revealed  Him.32 

And  there  follows:  cln  thee  I  shall  be  glorified.  And  I 
said:  I  have  worked  in  vain,  I  have  spent  my  strength 

26  Fs.   118.91. 

27  Fs.  118.21,27,28. 

28  Ps.  85.2,16. 

29  Ps.  30.6,9,12,17. 

30  Isa.  49.1-3. 

31  Isa.    44.1. 

32  Cf.  John  1.18. 


142  SAINT  AMBROSE 

without  cause.  Therefore  my  judgment  is  with  the  Lord 
and  my  sorrow  before  God.'  And  now  speaks  the  Lord  cthat 
formed  me  from  the  womb  to  be  his  servant  that  I  may 
bring  back  Jacob  unto  him  [and  Israel  will  not  be  gathered 
together].3  Who  but  Christ  has  gathered  together  the  people 
of  God?  Who  has  been  glorified  before  the  Lord?  Who  is 
the  Power  of  God?  To  whom  did  the  Father  say:  'Is  it  a 
great  thing  for  you  to  be  called  my  servant?'  And  to  whom 
does  He  say:  'Behold  I  have  given  thee  to  be  the  covenant 
of  my  generation,  the  light  of  the  gentiles,  and  thou  mayst 
be  my  salvation  even  to  the  farthermost  parts  of  the  earth'?33 
Of  Him  He  speaks  also  through  the  mouth  of  Ezechiel, 
saying:  'And  I  will  set  up  one  shepherd  over  them,  and  my 
servant  David  will  rule  them,  and  he  will  be  their  shepherd : 
And  I  the  Lord  will  be  their  God:  and  my  servant  David 
the  prince  in  the  midst  of  them.'34  Of  course,  David  the 
king  was  already  dead,  but  the  true  David,  the  truly  humble 
one,  the  truly  meek,  the  true  Son  of  God,  strong  of  hand,  is 
foretold  by  this  name.  He  also  is  pointed  out  in  the  book  of 
the  Prophet  Zacharias,  God  the  Father  saying:  CI  will  bring 
my  servant,  the  Orient  is  his  name/35  Although  He  wore 
sin-soiled  garments,  was  not  the  Sun  of  Justice  clothed  with 
the  splendor  of  His  divinity? 

What  more  can  I  say?  Shall  we  consider  servitude  a  state 
of  greater  weakness  than  sin  or  than  a  curse  or  a  reproach — 
more  degraded  than  the  infirmities  which  He  took  for  our 
sake  in  order  to  turn  them  from  us?  He  became  all  things 
so  that  He  might  annul  them  all.  But  they  [our  enemies] 
will  not  admit  that  He  was  made  a  slave,  a  reproach,  sin,  a 
curse,  because  they  affirm  that  the  Word  and  Flesh  are  of 
one  substance,  and  they  say:  'Because  He  redeemed  us  He 

33  Isa.  49.4-6. 

34  Ezech,    34.23,24. 

35  Zach.  3.8. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  143 

is  called  a  servant,  and  ought  to  be  called  sin.'  And  they  do 
not  advert  to  the  fact  that  this  is  the  glory  of  Christ,  that  He 
took  the  state  of  slavery  in  His  body,  to  restore  liberty  to  us 
all;  He  bore  our  sins  that  He  might  take  away  the  sins  of 
the  world. 

He  became  a  slave,  sin,  a  curse  that  you  might  cease  to 
be  a  slave  of  sin,  and  to  free  you  from  the  curse  of  the 
divine  judgment.  He  therefore  took  upon  Him  your  curse, 
for  'Cursed  is  everyone  who  hangs  on  a  gibbet/36  He 
became  a  curse  on  the  cross  so  that  you  might  be  blessed  in 
the  kingdom  of  God.  He  was  dishonored  and  disregarded 
and  esteemed  of  no  worth.  He  kept  saying:  'I  have  labored 
in  vain.'37  Through  Him  Paul  merited  to  say:  'Not  in  vain 
have  I  labored,'38  so  that  he  might  bring  to  His  servants 
the  first  fruits  of  good  works  and  the  glory  of  preaching  the 
Gospel,  by  which  all  men  are  freed  from  the  burden  of  toil. 

After  hearing  these  words,  the  partridge  is  abandoned  in 
the  midst  of  its  days,  the  partridge  which  claimed  to  have 
hatched  eggs  which  she  did  not  lay,39  and  has  been  over- 
whelmed by  the  voice  of  the  Lord  Jesus.  At  last,  she  is 
making  preparation  to  flee. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 

36  Gal.  3.13. 

37  Isa.  49.4. 

38  Phil.  2J6. 

39  Cf.  Jer.  17.11. 


144  SAINT  AMBROSE 

28.  Ambrose  to  Sabinus,  bishop   (c.  395) 

I  have  learned  that  Paulinus,  second  to  none  of  the 
Aquitanians  in  luster  of  birth,  has  sold  his  and  his  wife's 
possessions,  and  has  taken  up  these  practices  of  faith  that  he 
is  giving  his  property  to  the  poor  by  changing  it  into  money, 
while  he,  poor  now  instead  of  rich,  as  if  relieved  of  a  heavy 
burden,  has  said  farewell  to  home,  country,  and  kindred  in 
order  to  serve  God  with  greater  zeal.  Word  has  it  that  he 
has  chosen  a  retreat  in  the  city  of  Nola  where  he  will  pass 
his  days  out  of  reach  of  the  tumult  of  the  world. 

His  wife,1  too,  closely  followed  the  example  of  his  zeal  and 
virtue,  not  objecting  to  her  husband's  resolve.  She  has 
transferred  her  property  to  the  jurisdiction  of  others  and  is 
following  her  husband,  where,  perfectly  content  with  his 
little  patch  of  ground,  she  will  comfort  herself  with  the 
riches  of  religion  and  charity.  They  have  no  children,2  but 
their  desire  is  a  posterity  of  good  deeds. 

What  will  our  leading  citizens  say  when  they  hear  this?  It 
is  unthinkable  that  a  man  of  such  family,  such  background, 
such  genius,  gifted  with  such  eloquence,  should  retire  from 
the  Senate  and  that  the  succession  of  so  noble  a  family 
should  be  broken.  Although  in  performing  the  rites  of  Isis 
they  shave  their  heads  and  eyebrows,  they  yet  call  it  a 
shameful  thing  for  a  Christian  out  of  devotion  to  his  holy 
religion  to  change  his  apparel. 

I  regret  that  falsehood  is  so  respected  while  truth  is  so 
neglected,  that,  as  a  result,  many  persons  are  ashamed  to 
appear  devoted  to  their  holy  religion,  not  considering  the 
voice  of  the  One  who  says:  'Whoever  is  ashamed  of  me 
before  men,  of  him  will  I  be  ashamed  before  my  Father  who 
is  in  heaven.53  Moses  was  not  ashamed,  and  when  he  was 

1  The   saintly   Therasia. 

2  A  child,  born  in  Spain,  died  after  eight  days. 

3  Matt.  10.32. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  145 

summoned  to  the  palace  he  preferred  to  be  reproached  as 
one  of  Christ's  own  rather  than  to  have  the  treasures  of  the 
Egyptians.4  David  was  not  ashamed  when  he  danced  before 
the  Ark  of  the  Covenant  in  the  presence  of  all  the  people.5 
Isaias  was  not  ashamed,  for  he  went  naked  and  barefoot 
through  the  crowd,  proclaiming  heavenly  prophecies. 

As  a  matter  of  fact,  what  is  actually  so  embarrassing  as 
the  gestures  of  actors  and  the  twining  of  their  limbs  in 
womanly  fashion?  Lewd  dancing  is  the  companion  of  wan- 
tonness and  the  pastime  of  riotous  living.  What  did  he 
[David]  mean  by  singing:  'Clap  your  hands,  all  ye  people'?6 
Obviously,  if  we  consider  his  bodily  actions,  we  realize  that 
he  clapped  his  hands,  dancing  with  women  and  stamping 
with  unbecoming  sounds.  Of  Ezechiel,  too,  it  was  said: 
"Strike  with  the  hand  and  stamp  with  the  foot.'7 

Yet,  these  actions  of  the  body,  though  unseemly  when 
viewed  in  themselves,  become  reverential  under  the  aspect  of 
holy  religion,  so  that  those  who  censure  them  drag  their 
own  souls  into  the  net  of  censure.  Thus,  Michol  censured 
David  for  dancing  and  said:  'How  glorious  was  the  king  of 
Israel  today,  for  he  uncovered  himself  today  before  the  eyes 
of  his  handmaids.'  And  David  answered  her:  CI  will  play 
before  the  Lord  who  chose  me  rather  than  my  father,  and 
than  all  his  house,  and  "commanded  me  to  be  ruler  over  his 
people  of  Israel.  And  I  will  play  before  the  Lord  and  I  will 
thus  be  uncovered  and  I  will  be  mean  in  thy  eyes,  and  with 
the  handmaids,  to  whom  you  said  I  was  uncovered,  I  shall 
be  honored.'8 

David  did  not  blush  at  a  woman's  censure,  nor  was  he 
ashamed  to  meet  with  reproach,  becauses  of  his  devotion  to 

4  Cf.    Heb.    11.26. 

5  Cf,    2    Kings   6.20. 

6  Ps.  46.2. 

7  Ezech.  6.11. 

8  2  Kings  6.20-22. 


146  SAINT  AMBROSE 

religion.  He  played  before  the  Lord  as  His  servant  and 
pleased  Him  the  more  in  so  humbling  himself  before  God 
and  laying  aside  his  royal  dignity,  performing  the  humblest 
tasks  for  God  like  a  servant.  She  who  censured  such  dancing 
was  condemned  to  barrenness  and  had  no  children  by  the 
king  lest  she  should  beget  the  proud.  In  truth,  she  had  no 
continuance  of  posterity  nor  of  good  deeds. 

Let  one  who  still  doubts  hear  the  testimony  of  the  Gospel, 
for  the  Son  of  God  said:  'We  have  played  for  you,  and  you 
have  not  danced.'9  The  Jews  who  did  not  dance  and  knew 
not  how  to  clap  their  hands  were  abandoned,  but  the  Gentiles 
were  called  and  applauded  God  in  spirit.  The  fool  foldeth 
his  hands  together,  and  eateth  his  own  flesh,'10  that  is,  he 
becomes  involved  in  the  concerns  of  the  body  and  eats  his 
own  flesh,  just  as  does  all-powerful  death.  And  such  a  man 
will  not  find  eternal  life.  But  the  wise  man  who  lifts  up  his 
works  that  they  may  shine  before  his  Father  who  is  in 
heaven11  has  not  consumed  his  flesh;  instead,  he  has  raised  it 
to  the  grace  of  the  resurrection.  This  is  the  wise  man's  honor- 
able dance  which  David  danced,  mounting  by  the  loftiness  of 
his  spiritual  dance  to  the  throne  of  Christ  that  he  may  see  and 
hear  the  Lord  saying  to  His  Lord:  'Sit  thou  at  my  right 
hand.'12 

If  you  think  we  are  not  foolish  in  using  this  interpretation 
of  the  dance,  do  not  spare  yourself  the  trouble  of  reading 
further,  that  you  may  review  with  me  the  well-known  case  of 
Isaias,  how  he  was  naked  before  the  people,  not  in  mockery 
but  gloriously,  as  one  who  uttered  with  his  mouth  the  words 
of  the  Lord. 

Someone  perhaps  will  say:   'Was  it  not  disgraceful  for  a 

9  Matt.  11.17. 

10  Eccle.  4.5, 

11  Cf.  Matt.  5.16. 

12  Ps.  109.1. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  147 

man  to  walk  naked  among  the  people  since  he  must  meet 
both  men  and  women?  Must  not  his  appearance  have  shocked 
the  gaze  of  all,  but  especially  that  of  women?  Do  we  not 
ourselves  generally  abhor  the  sight  of  naked  men?  And  are 
not  men's  genital  parts  covered  with  clothing  that  they  may 
not  offend  the  gaze  of  onlookers  by  their  unsightliness?3 

I  agree,  but  you  must  consider  what  this  act  represented 
and  what  was  the  reason  for  this  outward  show;  it  was  that 
the  young  Jewish  youths  and  maidens  would  be  led  away 
into  exile  and  walk  naked,  'As  my  servant  Isaias  hath  walked,' 
he  says,  'naked  and  barefoot.'13  This  might  have  been  ex- 
pressed in  words,  but  God  chose  to  enforce  it  by  an  example 
that  the  very  sight  might  strike  more  terror,  and  what  they 
shrank  from  in  the  body  of  the  Prophet  they  might  utterly 
dread  for  themselves.  Wherein  lay  the  greater  abhorrence: 
in  the  body  of  the  Prophet  or  in  the  sins  of  the  disbelievers 
who  deserved  by  their  deeds  that  calamity  of  captivity? 

Why  was  there  no  ground  for  reproach  in  the  body  of  the 
Prophet?  He  was  intent  not  upon  bodily  but  spiritual  affairs, 
for  in  his  ecstacy  he  did  not  say:  1  shall  listen  to  what  I 
say'  but  'what  God  will  say  to  me.'14  He  paid  no  attention 
to  whether  he  was  naked  or  clothed.  Adam  was  naked  before 
his  sin,15  but  he  did  not  know  that  he  was  naked,  for  he  was 
clothed  with  virtues,  but  after  he  committed  sin  he  knew 
that  he  was  naked  and  covered  himself.  Noe  was  naked,16 
but  he  was  not  ashamed,  for  he  was  filled  with  joy  and 
spiritual  gladness,  while  the  one  who  mocked  him  for  being 
naked  remained  exposed  to  the  reproach  of  everlasting  dis- 
grace. Joseph,  too,  that  he  might  not  be  shamefully  stripped 
bare,  left  his  cloak  and  fled  naked.  Which  of  them  was 

13  Isa.  22.3. 

14  Ps.   84.9. 

15  Cf.  Gen.  2.25. 

16  Cf.  Gen.  9.21. 


148  SAINT  AMBROSE 

dishonored  here,  she  who  held  another's  garment  or  he  who 
threw  off  his  o\yn? 

That  it  may  be  more  fully  clear  that  Prophets  look  not  to 
themselves,  nor  what  lies  at  their  feet,  but  to  heavenly  things, 
Stephen,  when  he  was  being  stoned,  saw  the  heavens  open 
and  Jesus  standing  at  the  right  hand  of  God;17  then  he  did 
not  feel  the  blows  of  the  stones,  he  did  not  heed  the  wounds 
of  his  body,  but,  fastening  his  eyes  on  Christ,  he  clung  to 
Him.  So,  too,  Isaias  did  not  notice  his  nakedness,  but  made 
himself  the  instrument  of  God's  voice,18  that  he  might  pro- 
claim what  God  spoke  within  him. 

Suppose  he  did  see  himself,  was  it  possible  for  him  not  to 
do  what  he  was  bidden?  Could  he  believe  that  God  ordered 
a  shameful  act?  Sara  was  accused  of  disbelief  for  laughing,19 
but  Abraham  was  praised  for  not  doubting  God's  word,  and 
he  was  given  a  great  reward  for  believing  at  God's  bidding 
that  he  could  devoutly  become  his  son's  slayer.20 

Why  should  the  Prophet  feel  shame  when  one  thing  is 
being  enacted,  but  another  prefigured?  The  Jews,  who  were 
abandoned  by  the  Lord  God  because  of  their  wickedness 
and  were  soon  overwhelmed  by  their  enemies,  would  have 
liked  to  align  themselves  with  the  Egyptians  as  a  protection 
against  the  Assyrians,  whereas  they  might  have  returned  to 
the  faith  had  they  consulted  their  own  good.  The  Lord  in 
anger  showed  them  that  they  indulged  a  vain  hope  of 
lessening  one  outrage  against  the  Lord  with  a  greater  sin, 
for  the  very  persons  whose  help  the  Jews  trusted  were 
themselves  to  be  conquered.  This  is  a  matter  of  history. 

Figuratively,  he  trusted  the  Egyptians,  he  who  was  given 

17  Cf.  Acts   7.55. 

18  Cf.  Isa.  22,2, 

19  Cf.  Gen.  18.12. 

20  Cf.  Gen.  22.1-19. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  149 

to  wantonness  and  enslaved  to  pleasure.  No-  man  becomes 
engrossed  in  excess  unless  he  departs  from  the  commands  of 
the  true  God.  As  soon  as  he  begins  to  take  pleasure  in  luxury, 
he  begins  wandering  from  the  true  faith.  Then  he  commits 
two  grevious  crimes :  an  outrage  of  the  body  and  profanation 
of  the  mind.  One  who  does  not  follow  the  Lord  his  God  is 
engulfed  in  extravagance  and  pleasure,  those  death-dealing 
passions  of  the  body.  One  who  is  absorbed  and  plunged  into 
this  sort  of  mire  falls  into  the  meshes  of  evil,  for  The  people 
sat  down  to  eat,  and  drink,'21  and  then  demanded  that  gods 
be  made  for  them.  In  this  the  Lord  teaches  us  that  the  person 
who  gives  his  soul  to  these  two  kinds  of  vices  is  stripped  of 
his  clothing,  not  of  a  woolen  garment,  but  of  living  virtue, 
a  cloak  not  of  time  but  of  eternity. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 


29.  Ambrose  to  Severus,  bishop  (c.  392) 

James,  our  brother  and  fellow  priest,  has  come  from 
distant  Persia  and  chosen  to  find  rest  for  himself  in  your 
fair  countryside  on  the  coast  of  Campania.  Notice  in  what 
spot  he  hopes  to  enjoy  a  haven,  as  it  were,  from  the  storms 
of  this  world,  where,  after  long  toils,  he  may  spend  the 
remainder ,  of  his  life. 

That  shore  of  yours,  far  removed  from  dangers  and  every 
disturbance,  fills  one's  emotions  with  peace  and  draws  the 
mind  from  frightening  and  raging  seas  of  trouble  to  a  beautiful 
repose,  so  that  the  words  that  David  said  of  the  Church  and 
which  apply  to  all  in  common  appear  to  be  especially  suited 
and  applicable  to  you :  cHe  has  founded  it  upon  the  seas,  and 

21  Exod.  32.6. 


150  SAINT  AMBROSE 

has  made  it  firm  upon  the  waters.'1  The  mind  that  is  free  of 
onslaughts  of  barbarians  and  the  bitterness  of  war  has  time 
for  prayer,  is  devoted  to  the  service  of  God,  cares  for  the 
things  of  the  Lord,  and  cherishes  the  interests  of  peace  and 
tranquility. 

However,  we  who  are  exposed  to  the  outbreaks  of  bar- 
barians and  the  storms  of  war,  are  tossed  in  the  midst  of  a 
sea  of  many  troubles  and  can  only  infer  from  these  labors 
and  trials  more  grievous  trials  in  the  future.  The  saying  of 
the  Prophet  seems  to  be  in  accord  with  our  condition:  'I 
saw  the  tents  of  the  Ethiopians  for  their  labors.'2 

Having  now  lived  fifty-three  years  in  the  body,  amid  the 
shadows  of  this  world  which  obscure  the  reality  of  the  future 
perfection,  and  having  already  endured  such  heavy  sorrows, 
am  I  not  encamping  in  the  tents  of  the  Ethiopians  and 
dwelling  with  the  inhabitants  of  Madian?3  They,  owing  to 
their  knowledge  of  the  works  of  darkness,  fear  to  be  judged 
even  by  mortal  men,4  Tor  the  spiritual  man  judges  all 
things,  and  he  himself  is  judged  by  no  man.'5 

Farewell,  brother,  and  love  us  as  you  do,  for  we  love  you. 

1  Ps.  23.2. 

2  Hab.  3.7. 

3  The  troubled  events  he  mentions  are  thought  to  refer  to  a  barbarian 
outbreak   which   greatly  terrified   the  people   of   Milan   in   392.   This 
event  and  the  reference  to  his  fifty-three  years  help  to  date  Ambrose's 
birth  in  339.  Cf.  Dudden,  op.  cit.  2.  McGuire    (op.  cit.  312)    does  not 
accept  this  date  as  determined  by  Palanque. 

4  Cf.   Ps.   119.5. 

5  1  Cor.  2.15. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  151 

30.  Ambrose  to  Siricius1 

I  am  always  pleased  to  receive  a  letter  from  you.  But 
when  you  delegate  those  of  our  fellow  servants  and  entrust 
letters  to  our  brother  and  fellow  priest  Syrus,  my  joy  is 
redoubled.  Would  that  the  pleasure  had  been  longer-lasting! 
As  soon  as  he  came  he  decided  he  must  return.  This  then 
made  my  regret  less  and  increased  my  esteem  for  him. 

I  dearly  love  those  priests  and  deacons  who,  once  they  have 
finished  a  duty,  do  not  allow  themselves  to  remain  away  any 
longer.  As  the  Prophet  says:  'I  am  not  weary,  following 
thee.'2  Who  can  be  weary  following  Jesus,  for  He  Himself 
says:  cCome  to  me,  all  you  who  labor  and  are  burdened,  and 
I  will  give  you  rest.53  Let  us,  then,  always  follow  Jesus  and 
never  falter,  for  if  we  follow  Him  we  never  fail,  because  He 
gives  His  strength  to  His  followers.  The  nearer  you  are  to 
this  strength,  the  stronger  you  will  be. 

Sometimes,  while  we  follow  Him,  our  adversaries  say  to 
us:  'Where  is  the  word  of  the  Lord?  Let  it  come.'4  Let  us 
not  grow  weary  of  following  Him  and  let  us  not  be  turned 
aside  by  meeting  with  a  crafty  question.  It  was  said  to  the 
Prophet  when  he  was  being  sent  to  prison  and  cast  into  a 
pit  of  mire:  'Where  is  the  word  of  the  Lord?  Let  it  come.' 
But  he  followed  it  the  more  and  therefore  reached  the  goal 
and  received  the  crown,  because  he  was  not  weary  following 
Jesus:  'There  is  no  weariness  in  Jacob  nor  will  sorrow  be 
seen  in  Israel/5 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  for  we  love  as  a  parent  one  who 
loves  us. 


1  Undated;  this  may  be  Pope  Siricius,  to  whom  the  joint  letter  of  several 
bishops  was  directed  after  the  Synod  of  Milan. 

2  Jer.   17.16. 

3  Matt   11.28. 

4  Jer.   17.15. 

5  Num.  23.21    (Septuagint) . 


152  SAINT  AMBROSE 

31.  Ambrose  to  Siricius1 

When  Priscus  came — he  who  is  my  friend  and  of  the  same 
age  as  I  am — you  gave  him  a  letter  for  me.  Now  that  he  is 
returning,  I  am  also  replying  as  I  should  for  duty's  and  love's 
sake.  By  this  service  he  has  enriched  us  both,  bringing  me 
your  letter  and  you  mine.  May  the  recompense  of  this  be 
the  attainment  of  an  increase  of  grace. 

Farewell,  brother,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 

32.  Ambrose  to  Syagrius1 

You  have  intimated  in  your  letter  our  need  to  be  careful 
that  the  beloved  people  of  Verona  do  not  dispute  our  decision. 
I  do  not  think  that  they  will  do  so;  such,  certainly,  is  not 
their  custom.  There  is  no  shred  of  doubt  that,  if  they  do 
dispute,  it  will  be  of  an  ordinary  matter.  If  they  are  provoked 
to  come  here,  let  them  return  to  you  with  their  grievances 
settled,  especially  since  we  have  reached  our  decision  jointly 
with  our  brethren  and  fellow  priests.  People  know  that  you 
had  to  make  your  judgment  without  the  helping  advice  of 
any  brother.  Yet  you  made  your  decision  before  the  trial 
with  the  result  that  a  virgin,  who  had  been  highly  esteemed 

1  Undated. 


1  Written  to  the  Bishop  of  Verona  regarding  the  case  of  a  virgin 
Indicia,  who  was  brought  to  trial  at  the  instigation  of  Maximus,  her 
brother-in-law,  at  whose  home  she  lived  a  retired  life,  and  subjected 
to  an  examination  by  a  midwife  in  order  to  establish  her  innocence. 
For  a  complete  study  of  the  case,  cf.  F.  Martroye,  'I/Affaire  Indicia: 
une  sentence  de  saint  Ambroise,'  Melanges  Paul  Fournier  (Paris  1929) 
503-510.  The  firm  attitude  which  Ambrose  assumes  in  this  case  leads 
Palanque  and  others  to  date  it  later  than  380,  the  traditional  date. 
Mention  of  Nicensis,  the  tribune  and  notary  who  testified  to  a 
miracle  of  restored  health  by  Ambrose  (Vit,  9.44) ,  also  leads  to  the 
assigning  of  this  letter  toward  Ambrose's  closing  years. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  153 

by  blessed  Zeno  and  consecrated  by  his  blessing,  was  many 
years  later  subjected  to  the  danger  of  imprisonment,  although 
she  knew  neither  the  author  of  the  charge,  nor  the  accuser, 
nor  the  avowed  informer.  Envy  was  stirred  up  against  her 
by  liars  and  heretics,  as  they  choose,  by  degraded  individuals 
seeking,  because  of  their  wickedness,  avarice,  and  intem- 
perance, a  liberty  for  their  own  wantonness,  and,  finally,  by 
those  who  had  been  cast  out  and  debarred  from  her  home, 
wlp  by  their  works  of  a  different  color  concealed  the  pretense 
of  their  first  appearance. 

You  set  up  in  your  court  accusers  of  the  same  sort  and 
witnesses  who  did  not  dare  make  a  charge  or  bind  themselves 
with  the  informer's  role.  So  you  decided  to  judge  the  virgin 
by  an  examination,  a  virgin  whom  no  one  censured,  no 
one  brought  to  trial.  Where  is  the  formality  of  inquiry, 
where  is  there  provision  for  such  a  trial?  If  we  consult  the 
state  laws,  they  demand  an  accuser;  if  the  Church  laws,  we 
find:  £On  the  word  of  two  or  three  witnesses  every  word 
stands.52  Take  as  witnesses  those  who  were  not  enemies  two 
or  three  days  ago,  so  that  men  in  anger  may  not  desire  to 
harm  the  accused  or,  being  harmed  themselves,  wish  for 
vengeance. 

The  disposition  of  the  witnesses  needs  to  be  unhampered, 
yet  in  such  a  way  that  the  accuser  may  first  come  into  the 
midst  of  the  case.  Those  priests  of  the  Jews3  first  put  their 
hands  on  the  head  of  Susanna  and  pronounced  the  accusa- 
tion, adding  at  the  same  time  the  weight  of  proof  which  the 
people  unwisely  accepted,  for  they  had  been  led  into  error. 
But  by  a  divine  judgment  through  the  Prophet,  almighty 
God  laid  bare  the  true  state  of  affairs  and  showed  that  the 
testimony  was  false.  As  a  result,  it  became  clear  to  all  that 
those  who  failed  to  prove  the  accusation  and  to  establish 

2  Matt.   18.16. 

5  Cf.   Dan.    13.34-60. 


154  SAINT  AMBROSE 

the  proof  wished  to  sow  envy  to  the  peril  of  the  innocent, 
confident  that,  if  ill-will  assaulted  the  mind  of  the  crowd, 
whose  ears  were  filled  beforehand,  prejudice  might  enter  into 
the  examination  of  the  truth.  For,  when  unfounded  rumor 
enters,  it  blocks  the  ears,  seizes  the  mind,  and,  if  proof  be 
wanting,  rumor  is  accepted  in  place  of  the  real  charge. 

For  these  reasons  we  examined  into  the  accuser  and 
determined  that  the  instigator  of  the  whole  scene,  Maximus, 
should  get  our  full  attention.  But  in  his  statement  he 
abandoned  the  charge  which  he  had  formed  with  eagerness 
and  had  brought  forward  by  word.  However,  he  kept  pressing 
with  effect  and  followed  up  his  demands  with  skilled  elo- 
quence. At  the  same  time  he  kept  running  away  from  his 
responsibility,  for  he  lacked  the  substance  of  proof,  knowing 
that  he  was  at  fault.  Finally,  after  spreading  rumors  and 
even  composing  and  sending  letters,  he  sought  to  aggravate 
the  ill-will  toward  the  charge,  but  integrity  was  not  to  be 
oppressed  and  tricked.  For,  had  the  judgment  had  proof, 
an  inspection  would  never  have  been  demanded, 

I  cannot  imagine  what  he  wants  and  how  he  will  make  the 
test  while  you  believe  that  you  must  have  recourse  to  the 
service  of  a  midwife.  Will  it  then  become  permissible  to 
accuse  all  persons,  and,  when  the  accusations  are  without 
proof,  will  it  be  allowable  to  demand  an  inspection  of  the 
private  parts,  and  will  holy  virgins  always  be  handed  over 
to  sport  of  this  sort,  which  is  horribly  shocking  to  the  eye  and 
ear?  Even  in  your  letter  you  attempt  the  utmost  delicacy  of 
expression.  Can  those  matters  which  cannot  sound  in  another's 
ears  without  loss  of  shame  be  tried  in  a  virgin  without 
embarrassment? 

You  have  located  a  cheap  slave,  a  shameless  home-born 
slave.  How  may  you  not  misuse  her  shameless  services  and 
prostitute  the  other's  modesty,  especially  since  there  is  nothing 
more  holy  in  a  maiden  than  her  sense  of  modesty? 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  155 

Does  one  not  seek  out  a  holy  maiden,  provided  only  that 
her  modesty  remains  uninjured?  The  virgin  of  the  Lord  is 
weighed  on  her  own  scales  in  giving  proof  of  herself  and 
needs  no  borrowed  dowry  to  prove  herself  a  virgin.  And  no 
inspection  of  hidden  and  secret  parts,  but  modesty,  evident 
to  all,  gives  proof  of  her  integrity.  She  does  not  please  God 
unless  the  soberness  of  her  manner  sets  approval  upon  her. 
She  is  not  approved  by  the  Lord  if  she  needs  the  testimony 
of  a  midwife,  which  is  usually  secured  at  a  price.  Does  she 
appear  to  you  to  abound  in  fidelity  if  she  can  be  bought  and 
deceived,  so  that  she  excuses  the  guilty,  covers  up  crime,  or 
does  not  know  and  cannot  detect  disgrace? 

Nor  do  I  consider  that  statement  of  your  letter  a  just  one, 
namely,  that  unless  she  is  inspected  her  integrity  is  imperiled 
and  she  will  be  disquieted  by  uncertainty  regarding  herself. 
.  Have  all  those  who  were  not  inspected  put  peril  in  the  path 
of  their  modesty?  Are  those  about  to  marry  to  be  inspected 
beforehand  so  that  they  may  marry  with  greater  approval? 
Are  those  about  to  take  the  veil  to  be  first  subjected  to  a 
handling  of  this  sort?  For  they  are  not  visited  but  handled, 
and  according  to  your  opinion  one  unapproved  is  more 
lawfully  inspected  than  a  consecrated  person. 

What  of  the  fact  that  medical  experts  say  that  the  trust- 
worthiness of  an  inspection  is  not  clearly  understood  and 
this  has  been  the  opinion  of  older  doctors  of  medicine?  We 
know  from  former  experience  that  between  midwives  a 
difference  arises  and  a  question  is  raised  with  the  result  that 
there  is  more  doubt  regarding  the  one  who  has  given  herself 
over  to  an  inspection  than  of  one  who  has  not.  In  fact,  we 
found  this  to  be  so  in  a  recent  case  when  a  slave  girl  from 
Altinum,  having  been  inspected  and  charged  with  wrong, 
later  at  Milan — not  by  my  command  but  by  that  of  Nicensis, 
a  tribune  and  a  notary — at  the  wish  of  her  master  and  patron, 
was  visited  by  one  of  the  most  skillful  and  wealthy  women  of 


156  SAINT  AMBROSE 

this  profession.  And  although  these  qualifications  were  found 
in  her,  so  that  neither  the  midwife's  poverty  made  her  trust- 
worthiness suspect  nor  lack  of  training  made  her  Ignorant, 
a  question  still  remains. 

What  advantage  was  it  for  her  to  be  inspected  when  she 
still  is  under  a  cloud  of  disapproval?  For,  as  each  person 
wished,  he  asserted  that  the  woman  physician  was  either 
ignorant  or  had  been  bribed.  Thus,  the  harm  of  undergoing 
inspection  is  without  effect.  What  will  be  done  next?  Shall 
a  girl  be  examined  as  often  as  someone  appears  who  does 
not  trust  her?  If  she  ever  refuses  to  be  visited,  she  will,  accord- 
ing to  your  assertion,  confess  her  crime.  And  it  is  easier  to 
refute  what  one  never  did  than  what  one  did.  The  midwives 
will  be  at  odds,  fearing  that  some  favor  once  granted  will 
not  be  granted  again.  She  will  be  only  one  of  several,  although 
even  in  large  cities  this  practice  of  doctoring  is  found  among 
few  women.  She  will,  I  say,  be  either  bad-willed  or  unskilled, 
whom  the  barriers  of  modesty  leave  unpracticed  and  through 
lack  of  skill  she  will  put  a  mark  on  unblemished  modesty. 
You  see  into  what  danger  you  bring  a  maiden's  profession 
when  you  decide  to  have  recourse  to  a  midwife,  so  that  now 
she  is  not  only  imperiled  by  the  loss  of  her  sense  of  modesty 
but  also  by  the  uncertainty  of  the  midwife. 

Let  us  now  consider  just  what  is  the  duty  of  a  midwife, 
for  we  read  of  midwives  even  in  the  Old  Testament,  but 
not  of  inspectresses.  They  came  to  women  in  labor,  not  to 
virgins;  they  came  to  receive  the  child,  not  to  put  modesty 
to  the  test.  They  are  called  midwives  that  they  may  stand 
midway  in  pain,  or  at  least  that  the  child  may  not  fall  to 
the  ground  when  the  walls  of  the  uterus  are  relaxed.  In  a 
second  and  a  third  place  in  Scripture  we  find  midwives  on 
hand,  always  for  a  birth,  not  for  an  inspection — first  of  all, 
when  Rachel  was  in  labor,4  then  when  Thomar  was  giving 


4  Cf.  Gen.  35.16. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  157 

birth,5  and  third  when  Pharao  ordered  the  killing  of  all  the 
male  Hebrews  by  the  midwives,6  the  time  when  they  answered 
that  the  Hebrew  women  did  not  give  birth  in  the  manner 
of  the  Egyptians  but  were  delivered  before  the  midwives 
reached  them.  The  reason  mentioned  above  proved  advan- 
tageous for  the  salvation  of  the  Hebrews;  for  others  it  proved 
damaging  to  their  reliance  on  midwives  who  knew  how  to 
lie  for  their  own  safety  and  to  deceive  for  an  excuse. 

Why  should  we  take  suspect  and  doubtful  measures  when 
there  are  greater  documents  and  proofs  for  testing  the  truth, 
where  the  marks  are  clearer  that  modesty  has  been  violated? 
What  is  more  public  than  harm  done  to  modesty  and  the 
deflowering  of  virginity?  Surely,  nothing  so  proclaims  itself 
as  does  the  loss  of  chastity.  The  belly  swells,  the  burden  of 
the  fetus  makes  the  person's  gait  heavy — to  omit  other 
signs  through  which  it  is  betrayed  although  the  knowledge  is 
kept  secret. 

Perhaps,  on  a  pretext  of  sterility,  some  can  cover  up  vice, 
but  when  the  child  is  delivered  and  disposed  of  or  slain 
(when  ill-will  rather  than  proof  suggests  this),  and  when 
this  is  circulated  in  the  ears  of  all,  if  one  has  given  birth, 
freedom  from  calumny  is  absolutely  impossible.  The  virgin  of 
whom  we  are  speaking  was,  to  be  sure,  at  Verona;  she  had 
frequent  visits  from  girls  and  women;  she  was  always  held 
in  honor.  Priests  visited  her  because  of  her  modesty,  a  mirror 
of  dignity.  How,  then,  could  she  have  concealed  a  crime 
which  would  reveal  itself  by  her  appearance?  How  did  she 
cover  herself?  How  has  she  not  tried  to  flee  the  gaze  of 
women,  the  eyes  of  all  who  greeted  her?  How,  when  in 
labor,  did  she  check  her  cries?  The  pain  does  not  permit  this, 
for  even  Scripture  says  that  those  pains  which  a  woman  has 

5  Cf.  Gen.  38.27. 

6  Cf.  Exod.  1.15-22. 


158  SAINT  AMBROSE 

in  labor  are  very  great.7  The  day  of  the  Lord  comes  suddenly, 
it  says,  and  in  an  unexpected  way  like  the  pains  of  childbirth, 
which  forestall  all  one's  efforts  to  hide  them.8 

Evidence  of  these  signs,  which  even  women  feel  ashamed 
of,  are  of  greater  reliability.  In  fact,  Elizabeth  secluded 
herself  for  five  months  because,  having  been  barren,  she  had 
conceived  in  her  old  age.9  By  these  signs  the  very  virginity 
of  Mary  was  under  suspicion  to  those  ignorant  of  the 
mystery.  And  even  Joseph,  to  whom  the  Virgin  was  espoused, 
held  the  signs  in  suspicion  while  he  still  did  not  know  the 
mystery  of  the  Lord  taking  flesh.10 

Why,  then,  do  we  maintain  that  virgins  should  not  be 
inspected?  I  do  not  consent  to  what  I  have  never  read; 
surely,  I  cannot  believe  it  true.  Yet,  because  we  do  many 
things  for  appearance's  sake  and  not  for  the  sake  of  truth, 
and  through  error  we  frequently  make  many  assertions  (for 
there  are  many  persons  who  do  not  know  how  to  act  rightly 
except  through  fear  of  punishment),  let  us  leave  this  task  to 
those  whom  shame  does  not  deter  but  fear  of  harm  alone 
keeps  from  evil,  those  in  whom  there  is  no  regard  for  modesty, 
no  charm  of  chastity,  but  only  fear  of  penalty.  Let  us  leave 
this  to  slaves  whose  fear  is  to  be  caught  rather  than  to  have 
sinned.  Far  be  it  that  a  holy  virgin  should  make  the 
acquaintance  of  a  midwife,  for  then  there  comes  to  rnind 
not  an  examination  of  modesty  but  delivery  and  the  seeking 
of  a  remedy  for  pain.  Let  us  leave  this  to  those  who  have 
recourse  to  it  when  they  have  been  pursued  with  insults, 
overwhelmed  by  witnesses,  choked  by  arguments — let  them 
then  present  themselves  for  inspection  when  they  are  main- 
taining custody  of  their  body,  provided  this  can  be  detected 
in  those  in  whom  the  charm  of  modesty  and  training  in 

7  Cf.  Gen.  3.16. 

8  Cf.   Isa.  13.8,9. 

9  Cf.   Luke   1.24. 
10  Cf.   Matt.   1.18. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  159 

chastity  is  faltering.  The  case  is  going  badly  when  the  body 
has  to  be  consulted  for  stronger  proof  than  the  mind.  I 
prefer  virginity  made  manifest  by  works  of  character  rather 
than  in  the  body's  enclosure. 

Now,  it  is  strange  your  writing  that  this  was  revealed  to 
you  by  certain  persons  who  never  talked  with  you,  and  your 
believing  that  she  should  be  under  suspicion  unless  she  has 
been  visited  [by  a  midwife].  You  have  seized  upon  a  formula 
for  coming  to  a  decision,  but  what  sort  of  persons  are  they 
who  try  to  tell  us  priests  what  to  do?  But  we  have  freed  you 
from  need  of  making  a  most  serious  decision,  so  that  you  do 
not  have  to  follow  up  the  prescribed  formula.  What  difference 
will  it  be  for  us  if  we  have  not  obeyed  their  wishes? 

I  know  that  there  are  several  persons  there  who  are  god- 
fearing. At  times  we  have  observed  and  learned  that  there 
are  some  who  regret  this  calumny  having  been  devised. 
Although  they  are  very  hostile,  they  still  have  not  favored 
Maximus,  because  the  virgin  in  question  does  not  visit  their 
homes  or  salute  or  solicit  their  women.  What  will  happen? 
How  shall  we  free  her  of  this  charge?  It  becomes  a  serious 
crime  for  a  maiden  to  be  within  the  secrecy  of  her  own  home, 
to  be  shut  in  her  own  chamber !  Yet  the  passage  in  Scripture 
reveals  that  Mary  was  found  at  home  like  this  when  the 
archangel  Gabriel  came  to  her.11  Susanna  withdrew  inside 
to  escape  the  crowd.12  And  when  she  bathed  she  had  the 
orchard  closed.  What  is  more  excellent  (especially  in  a 
maiden  whose  private  parts  demand  modesty)  than  this 
retirement?  What  is  safer  than  retirement  and  what  is  more 
liberating  to  all  one's  actions?  Such  a  maiden  assumes  the 
tasks  of  modesty,  not  of  anxiety.  I  have  discussed  the  cases 
of  others;  I  must  now  answer  your  letter. 

I  am  surprised,  my  brother,  that  you  were  not  the  accuser, 

11  Cf.  Luke   1.28. 

12  Cf,  Dan.  13.7. 


160  SAINT  AMBROSE 

for  it  is  you  who  are  making  a  great  defense  of  Maximus. 
Yet,  you  have  grieved  with  a  parent's  sorrow  over  the  ill-will 
which  has  arisen  from  the  rumor  that  spread  abroad  when 
that  fellow  was  unable  to  deny  that  he  was  a  hostile  and 
opposing  party  to  the  lawsuit  and,  after  the  strife  was  already 
aroused,  obtained  charges  against  the  holy  virgin.  Then,  after 
he  had  built  a  wall  and  made  separate  entrances  for  his 
wife  and  the  virgin,  the  association  between  blood  sisters 
was  rent,  and  in  other  ways,  too,  the  girl  had  cause  to 
regret  that  she  had  asked  to  live  with  her  relatives  in  the 
country.  How  is  that  person  not  the  accuser,  who  has 
already  shown  the  feelings  of  an  accuser,  who  has  by  his 
statement  introduced  the  accusation,  has  filled  your  ears  with 
cries,  and  having  brought  in  persons13  who  bear  witness  to 
the  crime,  now  demands  an  investigation. 

You  argued  you  could  not  deny  that  you  had  written  to 
Indicia,  for  Maxirnus,  on  the  advice  of  others  or  through 
personal  grievances,  had  made  a  very  serious  charge.  This 
letter  alone  is  proof  enough  of  the  charge.  Yet  I  have  thought 
I  should  not  press  you  regarding  the  letter  you  sent  to  me, 
although  I  have  noticed  that  the  one  you  gave  the  girl  was 
different  from  that  which  you  wrote  to  me.  And  since  your 
letters  were  not  consistent,  I  decided  to  consult  you,  not 
blame  you.  What  gain  could  the  testimony  expect  from  the 
fact  that  it  differed  from  what  you  wrote  to  me,  namely, 
that  she  had  been  charged  with  a  heinpus  crime?  Is  it  to 
imply  that  a  child  was  said  to  have  been  delivered  and 
buried?  Almost  as  though  you  would  write  this  to  Indicia 
and  not  to  me !  When  she  heard  in  your  letter  that  Maximus 
was  being  introduced  for  the  accusation,  she  produced  your 
letter  in  which  she  proved  that  he  was  the  instigator  of  the 

13  testes  auditionesi  witnesses  from  hearsay,  not  eye-witnesses. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  161 

charge.  She  had  not  read  those  given  to  me  nor  did  she 
know  what  they  contained. 

I  have  been  horrified  from  the  first  at  the  calumny,  for 
I  realized  that  no  verdict  was  intended,  but  that  they  wanted 
harm  done  to  a  girl,  demanding  the  inspection  and  visitation 
of  a  maiden  and  not  removing  a  charge  of  any  sort.  Who 
would  not  realize  that  a  case  fraudently  framed  from  the 
first  was  to  remain  inconsistent  and  not  in  conformity  with 
itself?  Cheap  women  went  to  the  monastery,  and  it  reached 
the  ears  of  a  new  neighbor,  Maximus.  He  informed  the 
bishop;  those  who  were  said  to  have  maintained  this  were 
gone  and  had  been  forced  to  flight,  as  was  patent  to  us. 
Those  who  said  that  they  had  heard  the  rumor  were  called 
to  the  church,  whereupon  they  betrayed  Renatus  and 
Leontius,14  those  two  men  of  iniquity  whom  Jezabel  op- 
posed,15 Daniel  convicted,16  and  the  Jewish  people  suborned, 
so  that  by  false  testimony  they  assailed  the  very  author  of 
their  life.  Yet,  at  the  same  time  as  they  devised  the  crime 
and  set  out  (to  omit  no  details)  according  to  Leontius, 
they  had  joined  Maximus  and  those  others  who  spread  the 
rumor.  Yet,  when  they  stood  in  my  court  and  I  questioned 
them  on  the  history  of  the  case  from  the  beginning,  they 
related  different  discordant  details,  being  divided  not  by 
space  but  by  falsehood. 

Then,  when  they  did  not  agree  with  one  another  and  had 
removed  Mercurius  and  Lea,  persons  of  the  cheapest  sort 
and  of  detestable  character,  and  she  had  fled  to  Teudule, 
not  knowing  the  charge  thrown  at  her — how  before  she  had 
been  alone  on  the  couch  of  Renatus — another  slave  also 


14  The    two  who   originated    the   charge   which    Maximus    brought    to 
Bishop  Syagrius, 

15  Cf.  3  Kings  21.10. 

16  Cf.  Dan.  13.45-61. 


162  SAINT  AMBROSE 

appeared  to  say  that  she  was  tainted  with  lewdness  with  this 
same  Renatus.  On  the  very  day  set  for  the  investigation  they 
went  to  the  bishop's  court  although  on  the  day  previous 
this  same  Renatus  had  suddenly  asserted  that  they  would 
leave. 

For  these  reasons  I  set  a  day  for  the  trial,  but  when  no 
one  made  an  accusation  and  no  witness  came  forward,  I 
intimated  to  my  holy  sister  that  you  were  asking  the  in- 
spection and  visitation  of  the  aforementioned  virgin  in  her 
presence.  She  piously  objected  to  the  inspection  and  said  in 
defense  of  the  virgin  that  she  had  observed  in  Indicia 
nothing  except  a  maidenly  modesty  and  holiness.  She  had 
lived  at  Rome  in  our  house  when  I  was  not  there,  she  had 
been  given  to  no  frequenting  of  sinfulness,  and  she  hoped 
that  with  her  a  share  in  the  kingdom  of  God  was  being 
saved  for  her  by  the  Lord  Jesus. 

I  also  mentioned  our  daughter  Paterna,  for  she  never 
leaves  her,  her  love  being  proof  of  her  life.  What  she  says 
without  oath  must  be  compared  to  a  pledge  of  faith.  Calling 
God  to  witness,  she  maintained  that  the  virgin  was  a 
stranger  to  the  crime  for  which  she  was  being  sought  out, 
nor  did  anything  in  her  conduct  show  that  she  was  failing  to 
live  a  good  life. 

We  also  questioned  a  free-born  nurse,  whose  status,  in  no 
way  harmed  or  degenerate,  would  permit  the  liberty  of 
speaking  the  truth,  and  whose  faith  and  age  were  a  guarantee 
to  the  truth,  while  her  capacity  as  a  nurse  implied  knowledge 
of  what  is  secret.  She  also  said  that  she  had  seen  nothing 
unbecoming  in  the  maiden,  no  action  seemed  reprehensible 
to  her,  even  had  she  been  her  parent. 

Moved  by  these  considerations,  we  declared  that  Indicia 
had  never  failed  in  her  duties  as  a  virgin.  The  sentence  so 
involved  Maximus  and  Renatus  and  Leontius  that  hope  of 
their  return  [to  the  sacraments]  was  held  out  only  for 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  163 

Maximus  if  he  corrected  his  error;  and  Renatus  and  Leontius 
remained  excommunicated  unless,  perhaps,  proving  their 
remorse  and  daily  deploring  their  deed,  they  showed  them- 
selves worthy  of  mercy.17 

Farewell,  brother,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 


33.  Ambrose  to  Syagrius  (c.  380) 

After  you  found  out  what  transpired  in  our  court,  you 
kept  to  yourself;  therefore,  I  now  summon,  as  it  were,  a 
part  of  my  own  soul,  for  I  have  a  friendly  yet  sorrowful 
complaint  against  you  for  the  outrage  done  to  chastity.  Was 
it  necessary  for  an  unsurpassed,  unheard-of  case  of  virginity 
to  be  subjected  to  a  sentence?  Could  it  not  have  been 
dismissed?  In  other  words,  unless  with  injury  to  herself  she 
had  been  handed  over  from  honored  modesty  to  an  indecent 
surrender  of  her  body,  though  she  offered  strong  proof 
regarding  herself,  she  would  be  exposed  to  ridicule  and 
marked  out  as  a  wanton  individual !  You  have  tendered  this 
privilege  to  virginity,  honor  of  a  sort,  to  which  they  are 
pleased  to  be  summoned  and  invited  who  plan  to  recover 
this  boon !  Thus,  they  lose  the  liberty  of  a  common  reputation, 
nor  do  they  protect  themselves  by  the  statutes  of  sacred  or 
public  law;  they  may  not  ask  their  accuser,  or  oppose  an 
informer,  but  may  only  put  on  shamelessness  and  expose 
themselves  to  harm. 

Our  ancestors  did  not  think  chastity  so  to  be  despised; 
rather,  they  showed  it  such  reverence  that  they  would  wage 
war  on  violators  of  modesty.  In  fact,  so  great  was  their 
desire  for  revenge  that  all  the  tribe  of  Benjamin  would 

17  Roman   law   punished   calumny  with  exile  or   banishment.   Ambrose 
administered    a    spiritual    penalty-— excommunication. 


164  SAINT  AMBROSE 

have  been  destroyed1  unless  the  600  who  remained  out  of 
the  war  had  been  protected  by  a  natural  hill.  This  is  the 
expression  found  in  the  account  of  the  sacred  lesson  whose 
tenor  it  is  profitable  to  consider. 

A  Levite,2  more  courageous  than  wealthy,  lived  in  the 
region  of  Mount  Ephrem,  for  to  this  tribe  was  allotted  a 
landed  possession  far  removed,  in  place  of  the  right  of 
inheritance.  He  took  a  wife  for  himself  from  the  tribe  of 
Bethlehem  of  Juda.  And  as  they  felt  deeply  the  first  attraction 
of  their  love,  he  burned  with  unbounded  love  for  his  wife. 
But  her  ways  were  different,  and  he  was  more  and  more 
desirous  of  having  her,  and  inwardly  seethed  with  desire.  Yet, 
because  there  was  a  difference  in  their  ages,  and  because  he 
felt,  either  through  the  lightness  or  her  love  or  the  violence  of 
his  pain,  that  she  did  not  consider  him  of  equal  worth  with 
herself,  he  used  to  chide  her.  Frequent  quarreling  followed, 
and  the  offended  wife  gave  back  the  keys  of  the  house  and 
went  home. 

Her  husband,  overwhelmed  with  love  and  having  nothing 
else  to  hope  for,  when  he  saw  the  fourth  month  slip  by, 
went  to  her,  trusting  that  the  young  girl's  heart  would  be 
softened  on  the  advice  of  her  parents.  His  father-in-law  met 
him  at  the  door  and  brought  him  into  the  house.  He 
reconciled  his  daughter  and,  in  order  that  he  might  send 
them  away  more  joyous,  kept  them  three  days  while  he 
prepared  a  sort  of  nuptial  banquet.  Although  the  man 
wanted  to  depart,  he  kept  him  also  a  fourth  day,  offering 
him  excuses  of  civility,  devising  delays.  In  his  desire  to  add 
a  fifth  day  as  well,  he  found  new  reasons  for  delaying 
them,  while  the  husband,  unwilling  to  thwart  the  father's 
affection  of  its  desire  to  keep  his  daughter,  though  he  was  at 
last  promised  an  opportunity  for  setting  forth,  postponed  it 

1  Cf.  Judges  20.1-48. 

2  Cf.  Judges  19. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  165 

to  midday  so  that  they  would  start  out  well  fortified  with 
food.  Even  after  dinner,  the  father  wished  to  find  some 
delay,  saying  that  evening  was  now  approching.  At  last  he 
acquiesced,  though  reluctantly,  to  the  entreaties  of  his  son- 
in-law. 

He  set  out  on  his  jouney  in  happy  spirits  because  he  had 
recovered  his  dearly  beloved  wife.  One  servant  was  with  him, 
and  as  day  was  already  declining  they  sped  on  their  way 
with  swift  steps.  The  woman  rode  on  an  ass;  her  husband 
felt  no  weariness,  taking  joy  in  his  desire  and  lightening  his 
journey  with  talk  at  times  with  the  woman,  at  times  with 
the  slave.  When  at  length  they  neared  Jerusalem,  about 
thirty  stades3  away,  a  place  inhabited  then  by  Jebusites,  the 
servant  boy  suggested  that  they  turn  into  the  city,  especially 
since  night  makes  even  safe  places  suspect  and  one  must 
guard  against  the  uncertainties  of  darkness,  and  particulary 
since  the  inhabitants  of  this  locality  were  not  of  the  children 
of  Israel.  They  should  beware  lest  treachery  be  done  with 
hostile  design,  for  the  night's  darkness  is  opportune  enough 
for  any  tricksters  to  perpetrate  evil.  But  his  master  did  not 
care  for  the  servant's  idea  of  seeking  lodging  among  foreigners, 
since  Gaba  and  Rama,  cities  of  Benjamin,  were  not  far 
distant.  His  strong  will  overrode  the  servant's  suggestion,  as 
though  advice  takes  its  value  from  one's  condition  [of  birth] 
rather  than  that  through  advice  a  lowly  condition  may  be 
raised.  The  sun  was  now  setting  and  he  agreed  reluctantly 
to  go  into  the  city  [Gaba],  for  he  was  overtaken  by 
evening. 

The  Gabanites  lived  there,  unfriendly,  harsh,  unbearable 
people,  who  could  stand  anything  but  to  receive  people 
hospitably.  Indeed,  it  would  have  been  much  more  suitable 
had  the  Levite  not  sought  hospitality  in  Gaba.  That  his 
treatment  be  utterly  offensive,  he  found  on  entering  the  city 

3  About  four  miles. 


1 66  SAINT  AMBROSE 

that  there  was  no  inn.  And  when  he  sat  on  the  road  imploring 
the  mercy  of  these  strangers,  an  old  man  from  the  fields 
happened  to  stumble  on  him,  for  evening  had  compelled  him 
to  leave  his  work  in  the  fields  at  night.  Seeing  him,  he  asked 
where  he  was  from  and  where  he  was  going.  He  answered: 
'I  came  from  Bethlehem  of  Juda,  I  am  going  to  Mount 
Ephrem,  and  my  wife  is  here  with  me.  But  I  have  learned 
that  there  is  no  one  here  to  give  hospitality  and  provide  us 
a  chance  to  rest.5  He  needed  no  food  or  drink  for  himself 
nor  food  for  his  flock,  but  the  hospitality  of  shelter  was 
refused  them.  They  had  everything;  only  a  bare  lodging  was 
needed.  To  this  the  old  man  kindly  and  calmly  said: 
Teace  to  you !  Come  in  as  my  guest  and  fellow  citizen,  for 
I  am  also  from  the  region  of  Mount  Ephrem  and  here  is  a 
lodging  place;  someone  who  lived  here  a  long  time  laid  its 
foundations/  Having  received  them  into  his  home,  he  atten- 
tively and  carefully  provided  for  his  guests  and  entertained 
them. 

The  old  man  kept  urging  them  to  be  glad  and  kept  inviting 
them  to  drink  more  wine  so  that  they  would  forget  their 
cares,  when  all  of  a  sudden  they  were  surrounded  by  young 
men  of  Gaba,  given  to  lust,  all  lacking  esteem  for4  moderation. 
The  woman's  beauty  had  bewitched  them  and  thrown  them 
into  utter  folly.  They  were  captivated  by  her  beauty  and 
because  of  the  old  man's  age  and  lack  of  help,  with  high 
hope  of  getting  her,  they  demanded  the  woman  and  kept 
pounding  at  the  door. 

The  old  man,  going  out,  begged  them  not  to  defile  his 
guest's  stay  with  a  base  crime,  contemplating  violation  of  a 
privilege  reverenced  even  by  savage  nations  of  barbarous 
peoples;  they  could  not  insultingly  mistreat  a  fellow  tribes- 
man of  his,  legitimately  born,  a  married  man,  without 
causing  wrath  in  their  heavenly  judge.  When  he  saw  that 

4  Reading  ad,  not  ac. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  167 

he  was  making  little  headway,  he  added  that  he  had  a 
maiden  daughter  and  he  offered  her  to  them,  with  great 
sorrow,  since  he  was  her  parent,  but  with  less  damage  to  the 
favor  he  owed  his  guest.  He  considered  a  public  crime  more 
tolerable  than  private  disgrace.  Driven  by  a  wave  of  fury 
and  inflamed  by  the  incentive  of  lust,  they  desired  the  more 
the  beauty  of  the  young  woman  the  more  she  was  denied 
them.  Deprived  of  all  righteousness,  they  mocked  his  fair 
words,  considering  the  old  man's  daughter  an  object  of 
contempt  in  that  she  was  offered  with  less  feeling  of  ill-will 
toward  the  crime. 

Then,  when  pious  entreaties  availed  nothing  and  the  aged 
hands  were  hopelessly  extended  in  vain,  the  woman  was 
seized  and  all  that  night  was  subjected  to  violence.  When 
day  brought  an  end  to  the  outrage,  she  went  back  to  the 
door  of  their  lodging,  where  she  would  not  ask  to  see  her 
husband,  whom  she  thought  she  must  now  forego,  ashamed 
at  her  pitiable  condition.  Yet,  to  show  her  love  for  her 
husband,  she  who  had  lost  her  chastity  lay  down  at  the  door 
of  the  lodging,  and  there  in  pitiable  circumstance  came  an 
end  to  her  disgrace.  The  Levite,  coming  out,  found  her 
lying  there  and  thought  that  she  dared  not  lift  her  head  for 
shame.*  He  began  comforting  her,  since  she  had  succumbed 
to  such  injury  not  willingly  but  unwillingly.  He  bade  her 
rise  and  go  home  with  him.  Then,  as  no  answer  came,  he 
called  her  loudly  as  though  to  rouse  her  from  sleep. 

When  he  realized  that  she  was  dead,  he  lifted  her  onto 
the  mule  and  brought  her  home;  then,  dividing  her  limbs 
into  twelve  parts,  he  sent  one  to  each  of  the  tribes  of  Israel. 
In  great  distress  over  this,5  all  the  people  met  at  Maspha, 
and  there,  learning  of  the  abominable  deed  from  the  Levite, 
desired  to  go  to  war,  deciding  that  it  was  unlawful  for  anyone 
to  go  to  his  tent  until  vengeance  was  taken  on  the  authors 

5  CL  Judges  20,  wkh  many  modifications. 


168  SAINT  AMBROSE 

of  this  deed.  With  courage  they  rushed  into  battle,  but  the 
advice  of  wiser  men  changed  their  purpose  not  to  engage  the 
citizens  in  war,  but  to  put  the  charge  to  the  test  first  with 
words  and  to  determine  the  conditions  for  the  guilty.  Nor 
did  it  seem  fair  that  the  cost  of  a  few  men's  crimes  should 
fall  on  all,  and  that  the  private  sins  of  young  men  should 
make  the  safety  of  the  citizenry  fall.  So  they  sent  men  to 
demand  that  the  Gabanites  give  up  those  guilty  of  this 
crime,  and,  if  they  did  not  do  so,  let  them  know  that  to  have 
defended  such  a  crime  was  not  less  than  to  have  committed  it. 

A  proud  retort  was  made  and  plans  for  peace  were 
changed  to  war.  In  the  first  and  second  encounters,  when 
many  were  harmed  by  a  few,  the  Israelites  considered 
yielding,  since  the  battles  were  so  unfavorable.  There  were 
400,000  men  warring  against  25,000  of  the  tribe  of  Ben- 
jamin, and  they  strove  with  700  Gabanites  experienced  in 
war.  When  two  battles  were  unfavorable,  Israel  with  eager 
spirit  did  not  lose  hope  of  victory  nor  of  vengeance  for  the 
hope  they  had  built  up. 

Superior  in  cause  and  number  they  yet  fell  back  worsted 
in  the  battle's  outcome,  and,  feeling  that  God  was  offended, 
they  tried  with  fasting  and  much  weeping  to  gain  a  re- 
conciliation of  heaven's  favor.  Begging  the  Lord's  peace, 
they  returned  more  boldly  to  war  and  they  to  whom  prayer 
had  given  courage  and  who  had  entertained  much  hope 
were  now  a^le  to  do  what  they  planned.  On  a  pretext  of 
withdrawing  their  front  lines,  setting  ambushes  at  night  in 
the  rear  of  the  city,  where  a  segment  of  the  enemy  was 
located,  they  followed  as  some  retired  and  thus  were  pro- 
vided with  an  opportunity  for  invading  the  unprotected  city. 
Fires  were  quickly  set  and  flared  up  while  raging  flames  and 
waves  of  heat  revealed  the  sight  of  the  taken  city.  Their 
spirits  broken,  they  faced  the  enemy.  The  men  of  Benjamin 
who  thought  they  were  shut  in  and  surrounded,  even  before 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  169 

they  were  invaded  from  the  rear,  began  scattering  and 
fleeing  to  the  desert,  while  Israel  pressed  after  with  doubled 
force  and  pursued  them  as  they  wandered  in  rout. 

About  25,000  were  slain,  therefore,  that  is,  almost  all  the 
men  of  Benjamin  except  600  who  seized  a  fortification  on  a 
rough  cliff  and  by  virtue  of  its  situation  and  with  the  help  of 
nature  and  partly  through  fear  were  a  terror  to  their  victors. 
Success  advises  caution;  in  adversity,  revenge  is  esteemed 
rather  than  victory.  Not  even  a  minority  of  the  women  stayed 
clear  of  that  struggle,  but  all  the  women  of  the  tribe  of 
Benjamin,  along  with  boys  and  girls  of  every  age,  were  wiped 
out  by  sword  or  fire,  and  an  oath  was  taken  that  no  one 
would  give  his  daughter  to  a  man  of  that  tribe  in  marriage, 
so  that  all  chance  of  repairing  the  name  was  abolished. 

The  end  of  the  war  was  also  the  end  of  their  wrath,6  and 
anger  turned  to  sorrow.  Then,  putting  off  their  armor,  the 
men  of  Israel  met  together  and  wept  much  and  celebrated  a 
fast,  grieving  that  one  tribe  of  their  brethren  had  perished 
and  a  strong  band  of  people  had  been  wiped  out.  Rightly 
had  they  warred  against  the  authors  of  the  crime  because  of 
the  cost  of  the  sin,  but  unhappily  had  the  people  turned 
against  their  own  flesh  and  each  was  afflicted  with  civil  war. 
The  outpouring  of  tears  moved  their  minds  to  compassion 
and  stirred  their  feelings;  the  plan  conceived  in  anger  was 
gone.  Sending  legates  to  the  600  men  of  Benjamin,  who  for 
four  months  guarded  themselves  on  the  top  of  sheer  rocks 
and  by  the  desert's  barrenness,  which  was  dangerous  for  a 
mass  of  attackers,  they  lamented  their  common  hardship  in 
losing  their  fellow  tribesmen,  relatives,  and  allies.  Yet  the 
hope  of  renewing  the  tribe  was  not  utterly  destroyed  and 
they  consulted  together  how  they  might  agree  on  a  pledge 
of  faith  and  one  tribe  not  perish,  severed  from  the  body. 

After  setting  up  an  altar  they  offered  a  sacrifice  of  recon- 

6  Cf.  Judges  21. 


170  SAINT  AMBROSE 

dilation  and  peace.  But,  since  the  men  of  Jabes  Galaad 
were  obliged  to  the  penalty  and  oath  (for  all  Israel  had  bound 
herself  with  an  oath  that,  if  anyone  did  not  join  her  in 
punishing  the  crime,  he  should  die  the  death),  12,000 
warriors  had  been  sent,  but  that  all  the  men  and  women  be 
destroyed  by  the  sword  they  spared  only  young  maidens  who 
had  not  known  the  bed  of  a  man.  Thus,  all  Jabes  Galaad  was 
killed  and  only  400  maidens  remained.  Israel  took  them  and 
decided  that  the  men  of  Benjamin  should  put  away  fear  of 
war  and  wed  the  innocent  girls  close  to  them  in  age  and 
honor.  The  men  had  a  stronger  reason,  in  that  none  of  them 
had  warred  against  them  and  they  owed  them  the  favor  of 
charity,  since  through  them  they  had  been  snatched  from 
death.  In  this  way  was  a  marriage  union  sought  for  the  400 
youths. 

Yet,  because  200  remained  without  wives,  we  learn  that 
they  also  took  counsel  for  them  without  violating  their  oaths. 
Yearly,  a  festival  was  held  in  Silo.  There  maidens  used  to 
dance  or  lead  choruses  for  the  honor  of  religion.  Some  went 
ahead  of  the  matrons,  and  filled  the  whole  road  with  their 
traveling  troop.  One  of  the  elders  said:  filf  the  two  hundred 
men  of  the  tribe  of  Benjamin  would  keep  watch  from  the 
vineyard  until  the  troop  of  women  comes  out,  and  coming 
from  the  vineyard  each  one  would  claim  as  wife  whom  he 
chances  upon,  there  would  be  no  treachery,  for  the  people 
favor  remedying  the  continuation  of  the  tribe,  but  because 
of  their  oath  they  are  unable  to  ask  for  marriage  for  their 
daughters.  Nor  would  it  seem  a  violation  of  their  oath  if 
they  did  not  think  to  stop  them,  for  by  the  oath  no  need  of 
forcing  or  stopping  seems  imposed:  they  ought  to  look 
to  their  advantage  without  fear.  But  if  the  girls'  parents 
demand  punishment,  by  entreaty  and  by  reminding  them  of 
the  fault  of  unwilling  custody  of  them,  they  will  gainsay 
them,  aad  when  they  know  that  the  men  of  Benjamin  are 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  171 

unmarried  they  will  themselves  come  forth  with  their 
daughters.  The  tribe  is  now  worthy  not  of  penalty  but  of 
mercy.  Harsh  enough  has  been  their  treatment  and  part  of 
the  body  has  been  vanquished.  Too  immoderately  did  the 
people  desire  to  wipe  out  the  continuation  of  the  family,  to 
kill  some  of  theirs.  God  is  not  pleased  that  a  tribe  of  people 
perish,  nor  that  they  act  so  bitterly  over  one  woman.' 

The  Israelites  approved  the  plan;  the  men  of  Benjamin 
went  out  and  hid  in  the  vineyard  at  a  favorable  spot  and  at 
a  favorable  moment  swooped  down  upon  the  roads  filled 
with  crowds  of  women.  The  solemnizing  of  their  religion 
furnished  them  a  nuptial  festival.  Daughters  were  torn  from 
the  embrace  of  fathers,  as  though  being  given  to  the  band  of 
youths  by  their  parents,  and  you  would  think  each  had 
agreed  not  to  be  drawn  from  her  mother's  arms  but  to 
leave  them.  Thus  did  the  tribe  of  Benjamin,  which  had 
almost  been  annihilated  and  destroyed,  shortly  flourish, 
proving  how  the  punishment  of  shamelessness  and  revenge 
for  injured  chastity  mean  great  harm  to  the  proud. 

Scripture  proves  this  not  only  here,  but  in  many  places. 
In  Genesis,  too,  we  read  that  Pharao,  king  of  Egypt,  was 
scourged  with  many  torments  for  having  loved  Sara,  although 
he  did  not  know  she  was  another's  wife.7 

It  is  the  Lord's  will  to  guard  chastity;  how  much  more, 
to  defend  purity!  Hence,  no  harm  ought  to  be  inflicted 
upon  holy  virgins,  for  those  who  do  not  marry  and  men  who 
do  not  take  to  wife  are  accounted  as  the  angels  of  God  in 
heaven.8  So,  let  us  not  bring  bodily  insult  to  heavenly  grace, 
since  God  is  powerful  whom  no  transgression  escapes,  who 
is  moved  by  a  harsh  and  heavy  insult  to  consecrated  virginity, 
a  gift  reserved  to  Him. 

Farewell,  brother,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 

7  C£.  Gen.  20.2-18. 

8  Cf.  Luke  20.36. 


172  SAINT  AMBROSE 

34.  Ambrose  to  Theophilus  (392) 

Evagrius1  has  no  ground  for  complaint;  Flavian3  has 
reason  to  fear,  and  so  avoids  the  trial  Let  our  brethren 
pardon  our  righteous  grief;  because  of  these  men  the  whole 
world  is  disturbed,  yet  they  do  not  share  our  sorrow.  Let 
them  at  least  calmly  allow  themselves  to  be  censured  by 
those  whom  they  have  seen  harassed  for  a  long  time  by  their 
obstinacy.  Because  these  two  have  refused  to  agree  on 
anything  which  pertains  to  the  peace  of  Christ,  serious 
discord  has  arisen  and  spread  throughout  the  world. 

To  this  shipwreck  of  holy  peace  the  holy  Synod  of  Capua 
had  at  last  offered  a  haven  of  tranquility,  namely,  that 
communion  should  be  offered  to  all  those  in  the  East  who 
profess  the  Catholic  faith,  and  that  the  trial  of  these  two 
men  should  be  decided  by  your  Holiness  at  a  session  of  our 
brethren  and  fellow  bishops  of  Egypt.  We  felt  that  your 
judgment  would  be  a  true  one,  since  you  have  embraced 
the  communion  of  neither  party  and  thus  would  be  inclined 
to  favor  neither  side. 

When  we  had  begun  to  hope  that  these  most  equitable 
decrees  of  the  synod  had  provided  a  solution  and  put  an  end 
to  discord,  your  Holiness  wrote  to  say  that  our  brother 
Flavian  had  again  sought  help  from  entreaties  and  from  the 
support  of  imperial  rescripts.3  The  toil  of  so  many  bishops 
has  been  spent  in  vain;  we  must  have  recourse  again  to  civil 
tribunals,  to  imperial  rescripts;  once  more  must  they  [bishops] 
cross  the  seas;  once  more,  though  weak  in  body,  must  they 
exchange  their  native  land  for  foreign  soil;  once  more  must 

1  Evagrius   was  consecrated   Bishop  of  Antioch    by   Paulinas   when    the 
latter  was  on  his  deathhed. 

2  Flavian,  a  rival  claimant  for  the  see  of  Antioch,  was  in  the  favor  of 
the  emperor  for  his  success  in  quieting  the  insurrection  of  the  people 
of  Antioch  in  387.  He  pleaded  ill  health  when  summoned  to  Capua. 
Cf.  Theodoret,  H.  E.  5.23. 

3  An  imperial  order  had  undone  the  work  of  the  Synod  of  Capua. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  173 

holy  altars  be  abandoned  that  we  may  travel  to  distant 
places;  once  more  a  crowd  of  impoverished  bishops,  whose 
poverty  was  not  burdensome  before  but  who  now  need 
money  for  travel,  will  be  forced  to  bewail  their  poor  state 
or  at  least  to  use  for  their  journey  what  might  have  fed  the 
poor. 

Flavian  alone,  exempt  from  the  laws,  as  it  appears  to  him, 
does  not  attend  when  we  others  all  assemble.  The  money- 
lender and  borrower  meet  each  other;  they  cannot  meet 
him.  Flavian,  in  keeping  with  his  own  wishes,  alone  shuns 
the  fellowship  of  bishops  and  will  not  appear  in  person  at 
the  bidding  of  the  emperor  or  the  summons  of  the  bishops. 

Moved  as  we  are  by  this  sorrow,  we  still  do  not  grant 
that  our  brother  Evagrius  has  evidence  of  a  good  case, 
thinking  he  is  more  in  the  right  because  Flavian  avoids  him, 
or  concluding  that  his  opponent  is  in  no  better  situation  than 
himself,  each  of  them  relying  more  on  the  defects  of  the 
other's  ordination  than  on  the  validity  of  his  own. 

Yet  we  call  them  to  a  better  course  so  that  we  prefer  them 
to  be  defended  by  their  own  merits  rather  than  by  the 
other's  defects.  Since  you  have  implied  in  your  letter  that 
some  point  can  be  found  whereby  the  brother's  discord  will 
be  removed,  and  since  the  holy  synod  has  given  the  right  of 
trial  to  your  Unanimity  and  our  fellow  bishops  of  Egypt,  it 
is  fitting  that  you  again  summon  our  brother  Flavian  so 
that,  if  he  continues  to  choose  not  to  appear,  you  may, 
without  prejudice  to  the  decrees  of  the  Council  of  Nicaea 
and  the  statutes  of  the  Synod  of  Capua,  so  provide  for  the 
preservation  of  general  peace  that  we  may  not  seem  to  tear 
down  what  has  been  built  up :  Tor  if  I  destroy  what  I  have 
built,  I  make  myself  a  sinner,  and  if  I  reconstruct  the  things 
that  I  have  destroyed.'4  Only  let  the  grace  of  the  peace  we 
have  obtained  be  preserved  by  all,  and  the  refusal  of  the  one 

4  Gal.  2.18. 


174  SAINT  AMBROSE 

party  to  appear  will  not  cause  all  our  actions  to  be  in  vain. 
We  think,  too,  that  you  should  consult  our  holy  brother, 
Bishop  of  the  Church  at  Rome,  for  we  presume  that  what 
you  determine  will  in  no  wise  displease  him.  As  the  decision 
will  be  of  great  advantage,  so  also  will  the  security  of  peace 
and  harmony,  provided  the  decision  made  by  your  judgment 
is  such  that  it  will  not  bring  discord  to  our  communion.  And 
we,  upon  receiving  the  statutes  of  your  decrees  and  learning 
that  the  Church  at  Rome  undoubtedly  approves  what  has 
been  done,  shall  gladly  partake  of  the  good  results  of  this 
trial 

35.  Ambrose  to  Vigilius  (385) 

You  have  asked  me  what  should  be  the  chief  points  of 
your  teaching  now  that  you  are  newly  ordained  to  the  office 
of  bishop.  Because  you  have  built  up  your  spirit  so  fittingly 
you  have  been  deemed  worthy  of  this  great  office;  it  is  now 
your  duty  to  build  up  others. 

Realize,  first  of  all,  that  you  have  been  entrusted  with 
the  Church  of  the  Lord,  and  therefore  you  must  prevent  any 
scandal  from  intruding  and  causing  her  body  to  become 
common  by  contamination  with  heathens.  For  this  reason, 
Scripture  says  to  you:  'Do  not  marry  any  Chanaanite 
woman  but  go  into  Mesopotamia,  to-  the  house  of  Bathuel, 
that  is,  the  house  of  wisdom,  and  choose  there  a  wife  for 
you.31  Mesopotamia  is  a  region  in  the  East  bounded  by  the 
two  largest  rivers  in  that  area,  the  Euphrates  and  the  Tigris, 
which  have  their  rise  in  Armenia  and  flow  by  different 
courses  into  the  Red  Sea.  Now,  the  Church  is  signified  by  the 
word  Mesopotamia,  for  she  waters  the  minds  of  the  faithful 

1  Gen.  28,1,2. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  175 

with  the  great  streams  of  wisdom  and  justice,  pouring  on 
them  the  grace  of  holy  baptism,  typified  by  the  Red  Sea, 
and  washing  away  sin.  Teach  the  people,  therefore,  to  seek 
ties  of  marriage  not  with  strangers  but  from  the  households 
of  Christians. 

Let  no  one  defraud  a  hireling  of  his  wages,  because  we, 
too,  are  hired  men  of  God,  hoping  for  the  reward  of  our 
labors  from  Him.2  You,  too  [you  must  say],  O  merchant, 
whoever  you  are,  are  refusing  the  hireling  the  wages  in 
money,  a  cheap  and  passing  thing.  But  to  you  the  reward 
of  heavenly  promises  will  be  refused,  as  the  Law  says: 
'Thou  shalt  not  refuse  the  hire  of  the  hireling.'3 

Do  not  lend  your  money  for  interest,  since  Scripture  says 
that  he  who  does  not  lend  his  money  at  usury  will  dwell  in 
the  tabernacle  of  God,4  because  one  who  takes  the  gain  of 
usury  is  overthrown.  Therefore,  if  a  Christian  man  has 
money,  let  him  lend  it  as  if  he  were  not  to  receive  it  back, 
or  at  least  only  to  receive  the  principal  which  he  lent.  By  so 
doing  he  receives  no  small  profit  of  grace.  Otherwise  his 
actions  would  be  deception,  not  assistance.  For,  what  is 
more  cruel  than  to  lend  money  to  one  who  has  none  and 
then  to  exact  double  the  amount?  If  one  cannot  pay  the 
simple  amount,  how  will  he  pay  double? 

Let  us  take  Tobias  as  an  example,  for  until  the  end  of  his 
life  he  never  asked  back  the  money  which  he  had  lent,5  and 
then  he  did  so  more  because  he  did  not  want  to  cheat  his 
heir  than  to  exact  and  recover  the  money  which  he  had 
lent  out.  Nations  have  often  failed  because  of  usury  and  this 
has  been  the  cause  of  public  calamity.  So  it  is  especially  up 

2  Cf.  Lev.  19.13. 

3  Cf.  Deut.  24.14. 

4  Cf.  Ps.  14.5. 

5  Cf.  Tob.  4.21. 


1 76  SAINT  AMBROSE 

to  us  bishops  to  root  out  these  vices  which  seem  to  entangle 
most  men. 

Teach  them  to  welcome  strangers  willingly  rather  than  to 
do  what  they  ought  merely  from  necessity.  Thus,  in  offering 
hospitality  they  will  not  reveal  an  inhospitable  state  of  mind 
and  in  the  very  giving  of  welcome  to  a  guest  spoil  their 
favor  by  wrong-doing.  Rather,  let  hospitality  be  fostered  by 
the  practice  of  social  duties  and  by  services  of  kindness. 
Rich  gifts  are  not  asked  of  you,  but  a  willing  performance 
of  duty,  full  of  peace  and  harmonious  agreement.  A  dinner 
of  lierbs  is  better  with  friendship  and  love  than  a  banquet 
adorned  with  choice  victuals,  if  sentiments  of  love  are  not 
there.  We  read  that  nations  have  been  destroyed  with  utter 
loss  because  they  violated  the  oath  of  hospitality,6  and 
dreadful  wars  have  arisen  because  of  lust.7 

There  is  hardly  anything  more  deadly  than  being  married 
to  one  who  is  a  stranger  to  the  faith,  where  the  passions  of 
lust  and  dissension  and  the  evils  of  sacrilege  are  inflamed. 
Since  the  marriage  ceremony  ought  to  be  sanctified  by  the 
priestly  veiling  and  blessing,  how  can  that  be  called  a  marriage 
ceremony  where  there  is  no  agreement  in  faith?  Since 
spouses  should  pray  in  common,  how  can  there  be  love  of 
their  common  wedlock  between  those  differing  in  religion? 
Many  have  betrayed  their  faith  when  lured  by  women's 
charms,  as  did  the  people  of  the  patriarchs  at  Beelphegor. 
This  is  why  Phineas  lost  his  sword  and  killed  the  Hebrew 
and  the  Madianite  woman,8  and  soothed  God's  wrath  so 
that  all  of  the  people  would  not  be  destroyed. 

Why  should  I  mention  many  examples?  Of  the  many,  I 
shall  set  forth  one,  and  by  the  mention  of  this  one  it  may  be 
clear  how  dangerous  it  is  to  marry  a  woman  who  is  a 

6  Cf  Judges  20.44;  cf.  Letter  33,  above. 

7  Cf.  Gen.  34.25. 

8  Cf.  Num.  25.8. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  177 

stranger  [to  the  faith].  Who  more  than  the  Nazarite, 
Samson,  ever  was  mighter  and  from  the  cradle  more  endowed 
with  strength  by  the  Spirit  of  God?  Yet  he  was  betrayed  by 
a  woman  and  because  of  her  he  was  unable  to  stay  in  God's 
good  favor.9  I  shall  tell  you  the  events  of  his  birth  and  his 
entire  life,  arranging  it  in  the  manner  of  a  story,  not  word 
for  word,  but  in  substance,  according  to  the  account  of  the 
sacred  book  which  goes  as  follows: 

For  many  years  the  Philistines  held  the  Hebrews  in 
subjection  after  their  surrender,  for  they  had  lost  the  prestige 
of  faith  by  which  their  fathers  had  gained  victory.  Yet  the 
mark  of  their  election  and  the  ties  of  their  heritage  had  not 
been  entirely  obliterated  by  their  Creator.  But,  because  they 
were  often  puffed  up  by  success,  He  delivered  them  for  the 
most  part  into  the  power  of  the  enemy,  so  that  with  manly 
dignity  they  would  seek  from  heaven  the  remedy  of  their 
ills.  We  submit  to  God  at  a  time  when  we  are  overwhelmed 
by  other  reverses;  success  puffs  up  the  mind.  This  is  proved 
not  only  in  other  matters  but  especially  in  that  change  of 
fortune  by  which  success  returned  again  from  the  Philistines 
to  the  Hebrews. 

When  the  spirit  of  the  Hebrews  had  been  so  crushed  by 
long  and  injurious  subjection  that  no  one  with  manly  vigor 
dared  to  encourage  them  to  freedom,  there  arose  in  their 
behalf  a  great  hero,  Samson,  whose  destiny  was  ordained  by 
God's  words.  He  was  not  numbered  with  the  many,  but 
outstanding  among  the  few;  he  was  without  question  easily 
reckoned  as  surpassing  all  in  bodily  strength.  We  must  regard 
him  with  great  admiration  from  the  very  beginning,  not 
because  he  gave  great  evidence  of  temperance  and  sobriety 
from  boyhood  by  abstaining  from  wine,  nor  because  as  a 
Nazarite  he  was  ever  faithful  to  guard  his  sacred  trust,  with 
locks  unshorn,  but  because  from  his  youth — a  period  of  soft- 

9  Cf.  Judges  16.18-21. 


178  SAINT  AMBROSE 

ness  in  others,  but  truly  remarkable  in  him — he  worked  amaz- 
ing deeds  of  strength,  perfect  beyond  the  measure  of  human 
nature.  By  his  deeds  he  soon  gained  credence  for  that  divine 
prophecy.  For  no  slight  cause  had  such  great  graces 
preceded  him  that  an  angel  came  down  to  foretell  to  his 
parents  his  unexpected  birth,  the  leadership  he  would  hold, 
and  the  protection  he  would  give  his  people  who  had 
been  tormented  so  long  by  the  oppressive  rule  of  the 
Philistines. 

His  godfearing  father  was  of  the  tribe  of  Dan,10  of  no 
mean  station  in  life,  pre-eminent  among  others.  His  mother, 
a  barren  woman,  was  not  unfruitful  in  the  virtues  of  the 
soul.  She  was  worthy  to  receive  into  the  dwelling  of  her  soul 
the  vision  of  an  angel,  whose  command  she  obeyed  and 
whose  words  she  fulfilled.  She  did  not  permit  herself  to  know 
even  the  secrets  of  God  without  her  husband's  sharing  of 
them;  she  told  him  that  a  man  of  God  had  appeared  to  her, 
of  wondrous  beauty,  bringing  her  a  prophecy  that  a  child 
would  be  born.  Because  she  trusted  his  promises  she  shared 
with  her  husband  her  trust  in  these  heavenly  pledges.  When 
he  learned  them,  he  devoutly  begged  God  in  prayer  that 
he  might  also  be  granted  the  favor  of  a  vision,  saying: 
CO  Lord,  let  thy  angel  come  to  me.'11 

I  do  not  think,  as  a  certain  author  has  supposed,12  that  he 
did  this  out  of  jealousy  for  his  wife,  who  was  remarkable 
for  her  beauty,  but  rather  because  he  was  moved  by  a 
desire  for  a  favor  from  heaven  and  wished  to  share  the 
benefit  of  the  heavenly  vision.  One  depraved  by  vices  of  the 
soul  would  not  have  found  such  favor  with  the  Lord  that  an 
angel  would  return  to  his  house,  give  the  admonition  which 
the  fulfilling  of  the  prophecy  entailed,  be  suddenly  raised  in 

10  Cf.  Judges   13.2-23. 

11  Judges  13.8. 

12  Joseph  us,  Antiq.  5.8.3. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  179 

the  form  of  a  glowing  flame,  and  depart.  This  vision,  which 
so  frightened  the  husband,  the  wife  interpreted  more 
auspiciously,  turning  it  to  joy  and  removing  his  anxiety.  She 
said  that  to  see  God  was  a  proof  of  favor,  not  of  ill-will. 

Samson,  then  graced  by  such  favors  from  heaven,  turned 
his  thoughts  to  marriage  as  soon  as  he  reached  manhood, 
whether  because  he  detested  in  his  mind  the  free  and  familiar 
manner  of  deceitful  lust  in  the  young,  or  because  he  was 
seeking  a  reason  for  loosing  from  the  necks  of  his  people 
the  power  and  harsh  tyranny  of  the  Philistines.  Going 
down,  therefore,  to  Thamnatha13  (this  is  the  name  of  a 
city  in  that  country  which  then  was  inhabited  by  the 
Philistines),  he  saw  a  maiden  of  pleasing  appearance  and 
beautiful  countenance.  He  asked  his  parents,  who  were 
guiding  him  on  his  way,  to  ask  her  in  marriage  for  him. 
They  did  not  realize  that  his  purpose  was  so  set  that,  if  the 
Philistines  refused  her  to  him,  he  would  become  very  angry, 
nor  that  they,  if  they  gave  their  consent,  would  be  bringing 
an  end  to  the  wrong  treatment  of  the  conquered.  Since 
from  intercourse  a  sense  of  equality  and  kindness  grows 
apace,  and,  if  offense  is  given,  the  desire  for  revenge  becomes 
deeper,  his  parents  thought  that  he  should  avoid  her  because 
she  was  a  stranger.  In  vain  did  they  try  to  change  his 
purpose  by  lawful  objections;  finally,  then,  they  gave  their 
consent  to  the  wishes  of  their  son. 

Samson  obtained  his  request  and  upon  his  return  to  visit 
his  promised  bride  he  turned  off  the  road  for  a  short  while; 
there  a  lion  came  out  of  the  woods  to  meet  him,  a  truly 
fierce  beast,  because  released  from  the  forest.  No  comrade, 
no  weapon  was  ready  at  hand;  the  shame  of  fleeing  and  an 
inner  sense  of  power  gave  him  courage.  As  the  lion  rushed 
upon  him  he  caught  it  in  his  arms  and  killed  it  with  his 
grasp,  leaving  it  lying  there  beside  the  road  on  a  heap  of 

13  Cf.  Judges  14.1. 


180  SAINT  AMBROSE 

forest  wood.  The  spot  was  thick  with  the  grassy  growth  of 
fodder  and  planted,  too,  with  vineyards.  He  felt  sure  that  the 
spoils  of  a  savage  beast  would  be  of  little  importance  to  his 
beloved  spouse,  because  the  times  of  such  events  [as  marriage] 
are  made  charming  not  by  savage  trophies  but  by  genteel 
joys  and  festal  garlands.  Later,  upon  his  return  along  the  same 
road,  he  stumbled  upon  a  honeycomb  in  the  lion's  belly, 
and  carried  it  off  as  a  gift  to  his  parents  and  the  maiden, 
for  such  gifts  suit  a  bride.  After  he  had  tasted  the  honey, 
he  gave  them  the  honeycomb  to  eat,  but  he  did  not  disclose 
where  it  came  from. 

By  chance  one  day,  during  a  nuptial  feast,  the  young 
people  at  the  banquet  challenged  one  another  to  a  game  of 
question  and  answer.  And  while  one  caught  up  the  other 
with  spicy  banter,  as  is  the  custom  on  such  occasions,  the 
contest,  which  had  begun  in  fun,  grew  heated.  Then  Samson 
proposed  the  question  to  his  fellow  guests:  'Out  of  the  eater 
came  forth  meat,  and  out  of  the  strong  came  forth  sweet- 
ness.314 He  promised  as  the  reward  for  their  wisdom  that 
those  who  guessed  it  should  have  thirty  shirts  and  the  same 
number  of  coats,  for  that  was  the  number  of  men  present, 
but  if  they  did  not  solve  it  they  should  pay  a  forfeit. 

Since  they  could  not  untie  the  knot  and  solve  the  riddle, 
they  prevailed  upon  his  bride,  using  repeated  threats  and 
constant  entreaty,  that  she  ask  her  husband  for  the  answer 
to  the  question  as  a  mark  of  his  devotion  in  return  for  her 
love.  Truly  terrified  in  mind,  or  perhaps  in  the  plaintive 
manner  of  a  woman,  she  began  her  supposedly  loving 
complaints,  pretending  that  she  was  sorely  grieved  that  her 
husband  did  not  love  her:  she  who  was  his  life  partner  and 
confidant  did  not  know  her  husband's  secret  and  was  treated 
like  the  rest  of  his  friends  and  not  entrusted  with  her  hus- 

14  Judges  14.14. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  181 

band's  secret.  She  even  said:  'Thou  hatest  me  and  dost  not 
love  me  whom  until  now  you  have  deceived/15 

These  and  other  remarks  overcame  him  and,  weakened 
by  her  womanly  charms,  he  revealed  to  his  beloved  the 
riddle  which  he  had  proposed.  She  in  turn  revealed  it  to 
her  countrymen.  Seven  days  later,  before  sunset,  which  was 
the  time  agreed  for  the  solving  of  the  riddle,  they  gave  the 
answer  which  they  had  learned  and  which  they  expressed 
thus:  'What  is  stronger  than  a  lion?  What  is  sweeter  than 
honey?'  And  he  answered  that  nothing  is  more  treacherous 
than  woman,  saying:  clf  you  had  not  ploughed  with  my 
heifer,  you  had  not  found  out  my  riddle.'16  Immediately  he 
went  down  to  Ascalon,  slew  thirty  men,  stripped  off  their 
garments  and  gave  them  as  the  reward  he  had  promised  to 
those  who  had  solved  the  riddle. 

Moreover,  he  did  not  live  with  the  girl  whose  treachery  he 
had  learned,  but,  instead,  returned  home  to  his  own  country. 
But  the  maid,  in  fear  and  dread  of  the  wrath  of  one  so 
wronged,  afraid  lest  his  wrath  be  vented  on  her,  agreed  to 
marry  another  man,  one  whom  Samson  considered  a  friend 
of  his,  a  bridal  companion  on  his  wedding  day.  Even 
though  their  union  was  offered  as  an  excuse,  she  did  not 
escape  the  peril  of  his  hatred.17  When  this  became  known 
and  he  was  denied  an  opportunity  of  going  to  his  wife,  for 
her  father  said  that  she  had  married  someone  else,  but  that 
he  might,  if  he  wished,  marry  her  sister,  sorely  stung  with 
wrong,  he  made  plans  to  wreak  public  revenge  in  anger 
over  his  personal  affront.  He  caught  three  hundred  foxes 
and,  at  the  end  of  summer  when  the  grain  was  ripe  in  the 
fields,  coupled  them  tail  to  tail  and  fastened  torches  between 

15  Judges  14.16. 

16  Judges  14.18. 

17  Cf.  Judges  15.1. 


1 82  SAINT  AMBROSE 

their  tails,  tying  them  with  unbreakable  knots.  Then,  to 
avenge  the  affront,  he  sent  them  into  the  standing  corn 
fields  which  the  Philistines  had  cut.  The  foxes,  driven  mad 
by  the  fire,  spread  the  blaze  wherever  they  ran  and  burned 
the  corn  stalks.  Greatly  disturbed  by  their  loss,  for  their 
entire  harvest  had  perished,  the  owners  went  and  told  their 
leaders.  They  dispatched  men  to  the  Thamnathite  woman, 
who  had  given  her  troth  to  more  than  one  husband,  and 
also  to  her  house  and  parents.  They  said  that  she  was  the 
cause  of  her  own  destruction  and  harm,  but  that  it  was 
not  right  for  the  husband  who  was  wronged  to  avenge 
himself  by  injuring  the  whole  people. 

Samson  still  did  not  content  himself  with  this  wrong 
against  the  Philistines,  nor  was  he  content  with  what  he  had 
done  in  revenge.  He  slaughtered  them  in  a  great  orgy  of 
bloodshed  and  many  died  by  the  sword.  He  then  went  to 
Elam  to  a  stream  in  the  desert.  The  rock  there  was  a 
fortification  belonging  to  the  tribe  of  Juda.  The  Philistines, 
who  did  not  dare  attack  him  or  to  climb  the  steep  and 
hazardous  fortification,  denounced  the  tribe  of  Juda  and 
rose  up,  urging  the  tribe  to  battle.  They  saw  that  justice 
would  be  done  otherwise,  if  the  men,  who  were  their 
subjects  and  paid  tribute,  seemed  about  to  lose  a  rightful  and 
fair  treatment  in  public  affairs  just  because  of  another's 
crime.  In  consulation,  they  demanded  that  they  hand  over 
the  perpetrator  of  such  a  crime  and  on  this  condition  they 
would  be  unharmed. 

The  men  of  the  tribe  of  Juda,  hearing  this  stipulation, 
gathered  3,000  of  their  men  and  went  up  to  him,  maintaining 
that  they  were  the  subjects  of  the  Philistines  and  had  to 
obey  them,  not  from  choice  but  through  fear  of  danger.  They 
put  the  blame  for  their  deed  upon  those  who  had  the  right 
to  force  them.  Then  he  said:  'And  what  form  of  justice  is 
it,  O  race  of  the  sons  of  Abraham,  that  the  wrong  of  first 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  183 

betrothing  and  then  stealing  my  spouse  should  be  my 
punishment,  and  that  one  may  not  avenge  with  impunity 
a  wrong  done  to  one's  home?  Are  you  stooping  in  sub- 
mission to  little  domestic  slaves?  Will  you  make  yourselves 
agents  of  another's  insolence  and  turn  your  own  hands 
upon  yourselves?  If  I  must  die  for  the  sorrow  which  is 
understandably  mine,  I  will  gladly  die  at  the  hands  of  the 
Philistines.  My  home  has  been  assailed,  my  wife  has  been 
harassed.  If  I  may  not  live  without  their  evil  deeds,  at  least 
I  may  die  without  crimes  being  committed  by  my  people. 
Have  I  not  returned  an  injury  which  I  received?  Have  I 
inflicted  it?  Consider  whether  the  exchange  was  a  fitting 
one.  They  complain  of  damage  to  their  crops;  I,  the  loss  of 
my  wife.  Compare  sheaves  of  wheat  and  the  marital  union. 
They  have  themselves  seen  proof  of  my  pain,  the  injuries 
which  they  have  avenged.  See  what  service  they  consider 
you  worthy  of.  They  want  the  one  put  to  death  whom  they 
thought  should  be  avenged,  whom  they  injured,  and  to 
whom  they  gave  the  weapon  of  revenge.  If  you  bring  my 
neck  to  bend  to  the  proud,  hand  me  over  to  the  enemy,  but 
do  not  yourselves  kill  me.  I  do  not  shrink  from  death,  but  I 
dread  your  being  contaminated.  If  you  yield  to  those  insolent 
men  through  fear,  bind  my  hands  with  cords.  Defenseless 
though  they  be,  they  will  find  their  weapons  in  the  knotted 
cords.  Surely,  the  enemy  must  think  you  have  made  sufficient 
payment  of  your  promise  if  you  deliver  me  alive  into  their 
power.' 

In  answer,  the  3,000  who  had  climbed  up  the  mountain 
gave  him  an  oath  that  they  would  not  use  force  against  his 
life  provided  he  would  wear  chains,  so  that  they  could 
hand  him  over  and  free  themselves  of  the  crime  with  which 
they  were  charged. 

When  he  had  received  their  pledge,  he  left  the  cave  and 
abandoned  his  rocky  fortification.  When  he  saw  the  strong 


184  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Philistines  approaching  to  take  him,  although  he  was  bound 
with  double  cords,  he  groaned  in  spirit  and  broke  his  bonds. 
Then,  seizing  the  jawbone  of  an  ass  lying  there,  he  struck 
a  thousand  men  and  put  the  rest  to  flight  in  a  magnificent 
display  of  strength,  while  battle  lines  of  armed  men  fell 
back  before  a  single  defenseless  man.  Any  and  all  who  dared 
to  approach  him  were  slain  with  easy  effort.  Flight  staved 
off  death  for  the  rest.  Thus,  even  today,  the  place  is  called 
Agon,  because  there  Samson  won  a  great  victory  by  his 
overwhelming  strength. 

I  wish  that  he  had  been  as  controlled  in  victory  as  he  was 
strong  against  the  enemy!  But,  as  usually  happens,  a  soul 
unused  to  good  fortune,  which  ought  to  have  attributed  the 
outcome  of  the  engagement  to  God's  favor  and  protection, 
attributed  it  to  himself  I  saying:  'With  the  jawbone  of  an 
ass  I  have  destroyed  ...  a  thousand  men.'18  He  neither 
erected  an  altar  nor  sacrificed  a  victim  to  God,  but,  failing 
to  sacrifice  and  taking  glory  to  himself,  he  called  the  place 
ethe  killing  of  the  jawbone'  to  immortalize  his  triumph  with 
an  everlasting  name. 

Soon  he  began  to  feel  a  fierce  thirst;  there  was  no  water 
and  he  could  no  longer  stand  to  bear  his  thirst.  Knowing 
that  to  attain  human  help  would  not  be  easy  and  that  it 
would  be  difficult  without  divine  aid,  he  called  upon  and 
begged  almighty  God,  who  he  thought  would  not  help  him 
because  of  his  offense  against  Him,  and  because  he  had 
unwisely  and  carefully  attributed  any  success  to  himself.  Nay, 
he  even  assigned  the  victory  to  almighty  God,  saying:  Thou 
hast  given  this  very  great  deliverance  into  the  hand  of  thy 
servant,  and  it  has  been  my  help.  And  behold!  because  I 
die  of  thirst,  I  am  placed  by  my  need  of  water  into  the 
power  of  those  over  whom  thou  gavest  me  a  great 

18  Judges  15.16. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  185 

triumph.'19  Then  God's  mercy  opened  the  earth  when  he 
threw  down  the  jawbone,  and  a  stream  issued  from  it  and 
Samson  drank  and  resumed  his  spirit  and  called  the  place 
'the  invoking  of  the  spring.3  Thus,  by  his  prayer,  he  atoned 
for  his  vaunting  of  victory.  Men  expressed  different  opinions, 
noticing  how  arrogance  might  speedly  bring  harm  and 
humility  make  atonement  without  offense. 

When  in  the  course  of  events  he  had  brought  an  end  to 
the  war  with  the  Philistines,  despising  his  people's  cowardice 
and  scorning  the  enemy  bands,  he  went  off  to  Gaza.  This 
city  was  in  the  territory  of  the  Philistines,  and  he  lived  there 
in  a  certain  lodging  house.  The  people  of  Gaza  immediately 
took  note  and  hastily  surrounded  his  lodging  place,  putting 
a  guard  at  all  the  doorways  so  that  he  could  not  plan  to 
flee  by  night.  When  Samson  became  aware  of  their  pre- 
parations he  anticipated  the  plot  they  had  laid  for  the 
nighttime,  and  taking  hold  of  the  columns  of  the  house, 
lifting  all  the  wood  framework  and  the  weight  of  the  tower 
on  his  strong  shoulders,  he  carried  them  up  to  the  top  of  a 
high  mountain  which  faced  Hebron,  where  the  Hebrew 
people  dwelled. 

But  when  with  free  and  untrammeled  gait  he  passed  not 
only  beyond  the  limits  of  his  home  country,  but  also  the 
boundaries  which  his  ancestors  had  been  taught  to  observe 
by  custom,  he  soon  found  that  he  was  playing  with  death. 
With  small  faith  he  contracted  a  marriage  with  a  foreign-born 
wife  and  should  have  been  cautious  then  or  later.  But  he 
did  not  refrain  from  again  forming  a  union,  this  time  with 
Delila,  who  was  a  prostitute.  Out  of  love  for  her  he  caused 
her  to  tempt  him  with  the  wiles  of  an  enemy.  For  the 
Philistines  came  to  her  and  each  man  promised  her  eleven 
hundred  pieces  of  silver  if  she  would  find  out  in  what  lay 

19  Judges  15.18. 


186  SAINT  AMBROSE 

the  source  of  his  strength.  If  they  but  possessed  this  secret 
he  could  be  surrounded  and  taken. 

She  who  had  once  prostituted  herself  for  money,20  cleverly 
and  craftily  amid  the  banquet  cups  and  the  charms  of  her 
love,  in  admiration,  as  it  were,  of  his  pre-eminent  ^bravery, 
began  to  question  him  about  it  and  to  ask  him  how  it  was  he 
so  excelled  others  in  strength.  Then,  too,  as  though  she  were 
fearful  and  anxious,  she  begged  him  to  tell  his  beloved  what 
bond  precisely  would  put  him  in  the  power  of  another.  But 
he  was  still  prudent  and  strong-willed  and  he  countered 
deceit  with  deceit  against  the  harlot's  treachery,  saying  that 
if  he  were  bound  with  supple  green  boughs  he  would  be  as 
weak  as  other  men.  When  they  learned  this,  the  Philistines 
had  Delila  put  boughs  on  him  like  chains  while  he  slept. 
Then,  as  if  suddenly  awakened,  the  hero  felt  his  famed 
and  customary  strength,  broke  his  bonds,  and  fought  back 
against  the  many  who  had  their  strength  untrammelled. 

After  a  short  time,  Delila,  like  one  who  had  been  made 
fun  of,  began  to  complain  passionately  and  to  ask  again  and 
again  what  his  real  skill  was,  demanding  proof  of  his 
affection  for  her.  Samson,  still  strong  of  purpose,  laughed  at 
her  tricks  and  suggested  to  her  that  if  he  were  bound  with 
seven  brand-new  ropes  he  would  come  into  the  power  of 
his  enemy.  This  also  was  tried,  in  vain.  The  third  time  he 
pretended  that  she  had  drawn  him  out  regarding  the  mystery, 
but  in  reality,  being  nearer  to  a  fall,  he  said  that  his 
strength  would  leave  him  if  seven  hairs  of  his  head  were  cut 
and  woven  into  a  coverlet.  This,  too,  deceived  the  tricksters. 

Later,  when  the  woman  boldly  deplored  the  fact  that  he 
mocked  her  so  many  times  and  when  she  lamented  that  she 
was  unworthy  to  be  entrusted  with  her  lover's  secret  and 
begged  as  a  remedy  that  which  she  saw  was  likely  to  mean 

20  Cf.  Judges   16.6-18. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  187 

a  betrayal,  she  gained  his  confidence  by  her  tears.  And  just 
as  it  was  due  that  a  man  of  bravery  who  had  been  invincible 
all  this  time,  should  pay  the  price,  he  opened  up  the 
wounded  recesses  of  his  soul:  the  strength  of  God  was  in 
him;  he  was  holy  to  the  Lord  and  by  His  command  he  let 
his  hair  grow,  for,  if  he  cut  it,  he  would  cease  to  be  a 
Nazarene  and  would  lose  the  use  of  his  strength!  When  the 
Philistines  discovered  his  weakness,  through  the  woman,  they 
gave  her,  the  slave  of  their  price,  the  reward  for  the  treachery 
and  thus  concluded  the  affair. 

Next,  by  her  charms  as  a  harlot  she  drew  the  weary 
lover  to  sleep  and,  summoning  a  barber,  she  cut  seven  hairs 
of  his  head  with  a  razor.  At  once  his  strength  was  reduced 
by  the  treachery  of  the  forbidden  act.  At  length,  awaking 
from  sleep,  he  said:  'I  shall  do  as  before  and  shall  shake 
myself  over  my  enemies.'21  But  he  knew  neither  swiftness 
of  soul  nor  strength.  Force  was  not  his,  and  grace  had  left 
him.  Chiding  himself  further  for  having  put  his  trust  in 
women,  he  thought  he  would  make  further  trial  of  the 
effect  of  his  infirmity,  so  he  allowed  his  eyes  to  be  blinded, 
his  hands  bound,  and  his  feet  chained  as  he  entered  the 
prison  which  throughout  his  many  vicissitudes  he  had  never 
known. 

With  the  passage  of  time22  his  hair  began  to  grow;  then, 
during  a  crowded  banquet  of  the  Philistines,  Samson  was 
brought  from  prison  and  shown  before  the  people.  About 
3,000  men  and  women  were  there.  They  taunted  him  with 
cruel  remarks,  they  surrounded  him  with  mocking  jests  which 
he  bore  with  greater  stamina  and  beyond  what  his  blind 
appearance  suggested,  for  he  was  a  man  of  great  native 
strength.  To  live  and  to  die  are  functions  of  nature,  but 
mockery  belongs  to  the  base-born.  The  wish  arose  in  him, 

21  Judges   16.20. 

22  Cf.  Judges  16.22. 


1 88  SAINT  AMBROSE 

therefore,  either  to  compensate  for  such  insults  by  revenge 
or  preclude  any  more  insults  by  death.  He  pretended  that 
he  could  no  longer  support  himself,  because  of  the  weakness 
of  his  body  and  the  knots  of  his  shackles,  and  he  asked  a 
servant  boy,  who  was  guiding  his  steps,  to  put  him  near  the 
pillars  which  supported  the  house.  Placed  there,  he  grasped 
with  both  hands  the  support  of  the  entire  building  and, 
while  the  Philistines  were  intent  upon  the  sacrifices  of  the 
feast  in  honor  of  their  god  Dagon,  through  whom  they 
thought  the  adversary  had  come  into  their  hands,  accounting 
the  woman's  treachery  among  the  benefits  of  heaven,  he 
called  to  the  Lord,  saying:  'Lord,  once  more  remember 
your  servant  so  that  I  may  revenge  myself  on  the  Gentiles 
for  my  two  eyes.  Let  them  not  give  glory  to  their  gods, 
because  with  their  help  they  have  gotten  me  in  their  power. 
I  count  my  life  as  of  no  worth.  Let  my  soul  die  with  the 
Philistines,  so  that  they  may  know  that  my  weakness  no  less 
than  my  strength  is  deadly.'23 

So  he  shook  the  columns  with  mighty  force  and  he 
loosened  and  shattered  them.  The  crash  of  the  roof  came 
next  and  fell  on  him  and  hurled  headlong  all  those  who 
were  looking  on  from  above.  There  in  great  confusion  lay 
heaps  of  lifeless  men  and  women,  and,  though  slain,  he 
attained  his  wished-for  triumph,  greater  than  all  his  former 
victories,  and  a  death  not  inglorious  or  lacking  luster. 
Although  he  was  inviolable  here  and  hereafter,  and  was 
not  to  be  compared  in  his  life  to  men  who  experienced 
war,  in  his  death  he  conquered  himself  and  made  his 
invincible  soul  despise  death,  giving  no  thought  to  the  end 
of  life  which  all  men  fear. 

Through  his  valor  he  ended  his  days  with  numerous 
victories  and  found  the  captive  not  undone  but  triumphing. 
The  fact  that  he  was  outwitted  by  a  woman  must  be 

23  Judges  16.28-30. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  189 

attributed  to  his  nature,  not  to  his  person;  his  condition  was 
human  rather  than  his  fault  less.  He  was  overwhelmed,  and 
yielded  to  the  enticements  of  sin.  And  when  Scripture  bears 
witness  that  he  slew  more  in  death  than  when  he  had  the 
light  of  life,  it  seems  that  he  was  made  a  captive  more  to 
work  the  ruin  of  his  adversaries  than  to  become  cast  down 
or  counted  less.  He  never  experienced  degradation,  for  his 
grave  was  more  famous  than  had  been  his  power.  Finally, 
he  was  overwhelmed  and  buried  not  by  weapons  but  by  the 
dead  bodies  of  his  enemies,  covered  with  his  own  triumph, 
leaving  to  posterity  a  glorious  renown.  Those  people  of  his, 
whom  he  had  found  captive,  he  ruled  in  liberty  for  twenty 
years  and  then,  entombed  in  the  soil  of  his  native  land,  he 
left  behind  the  heritage  of  liberty. 

Because  of  this  example,  men  should  avoid  marriage  with 
those  outside  the  faith,24  lest,  instead  of  love  of  one's  spouse, 
there  be  treachery. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 


36.  To  our  lords  the  bishops,  beloved  brethren  of  Aemelia, 
Ambrose,   bishop   (386)1 

Holy  Scripture  and  the  tradition  of  the  Fathers  teach  us 
that  it  requires  more  than  ordinary  wisdom  to  determine  the 
day  for  the  celebration  of  Easter.  Those  who  met  at  the  Coun- 
cil of  Nicaea,  in  addition  to  their  decrees,  true  and  admirable, 

24  A  law  of  Theodpsius  in  388  forbade  marriage  with  Jews,  but  it  does 
not  antedate  this  letter.  Ambrose  mentions  such  an  imperial  pro- 
hibition in  2  Abr.  9.84;  Expos,  in  P$.  118,  serm.  20.48;  2  In  Luc.  8. 

1  The  authenticity  of  this  letter  is  sometimes  doubted  by  scholars, 
because  of  the  condition  of  the  text.  Cf.  E.  Dekkers,  O.  S.  B.,  Clavis 
Patrum  Latinorum  (Bruges  1951)  26,  and  C.  W.  Jones,  Bedae  opera 
de  temporibus  (Cambridge,  Mass.  1943)  35,  adn.  3. 


190  SAINT  AMBROSE 

regarding  the  faith,  using  the  help  of  men  skilled  in 
calculations,  formulated  for  the  above-mentioned  celebration 
a  scheme  of  nineteen  years,  and  set  up  a  sort  of  cycle  on 
which  might  be  patterned  subsequent  years.  They  called  this 
the  cnineteen-years'  cycle/2  and,  if  we  follow  it,  we  should 
not  waver  amid  foolish  ideas  regarding  a  celebration  of  this 
kind.  Having  found  a  true  method  of  calculating,  let  every- 
one be  of  one  opinion,  so  that  the  Sacrifice  [of  the  Mass] 
for  the  Resurrection  of  the  Lord  may  be  offered  everywhere 
on  one  night. 

Dearly  beloved  brethren  of  the  Lord,  we  ought  not  deviate 
from  the  truth,  nor  dissent  with  varying  opinions  on  the 
obligation  of  this  celebration  imposed  on  all  Christians.  The 
Lord  Himself  chose  that  day  to  celebrate  the  Passover 
which  agreed  with  the  method  of  the  true  observance. 
Scripture  says:  cAnd  the  day  came  when  it  was  necesary  to 
sacrifice  the  Passover,  and  he  sent  Peter  and  John,  saying: 
"Go  and  prepare  for  us  the  Passover  that  we  may  eat  it!" 
But  they  said,  "Where  dost  thou  want  us  to  prepare  it?" 
And  he  said  to  them:  "Behold  on  your  entering  the  city 
there  will  meet  you  a  man  carrying  a  pitcher  of  water: 
follow  him  into  the  house  into  which  he  goes,  and  you  will 
say  to  the  master  of  the  house:  cThe  Master  says  to  thee, 
"Where  is  the  guest  chamber,  that  I  may  eat  the  Passover 
there  with  my  disciples?"  *  And  he  will  show  you  a  large 
upper  room;  there  make  ready."  '3 

We  observe,  therefore,  that  we  should  not  descend  to 
earthly  things  but  seek  a  large  furnished  upper  room  for 
celebrating  the  Lord's  Passover.  When  we  cleanse  our  senses 
in  a  kind  of  spiritual  water  of  the  eternal  fountain  and 

2  Gr.,  enneakaidekaeteris;  Lat.,  enneadecaeteris,  the  decennovenal  cycle. 
For  a  history  of  the  reckoning  of  the  date  of  Easter,  cf.  Jones,  op.  cit. 
6-33.  Its  use  in  the  Church  of  Milan  is  discussed  on  pp.  35-37. 

3  Luke  22.7-12. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  191 

keep  the  rule  of  a  devout  celebration,  and  do  not  follow 
common  opinions,  looking  for  certain  days  according  to  the 
moon,  since  the  Apostle  says:  'You  are  observing  days  and 
months  and  seasons  and  years.  I  fear  for  you,  lest  perhaps 
I  have  labored  among  you  in  vain/4  a  beginning  of  another 
sort  is  in  effect. 

It  is  one  thing  to  keep  the  observance  like  the  heathens, 
judging  on  what  day  something  should  be  begun,  as  you 
think:  'avoid  the  fifth  day,'5  and  that  you  ought  begin 
nothing  on  it,  trusting  also  various  stages  in  the  course  of 
the  moon  for  undertaking  business,  or  avoiding  certain  days, 
as  some  persons  habitually  shy  away  from  'following'  days 
or  'Egyptian'  days.6  It  is  quite  another  thing  to  keep  a  pious 
attitude  toward  that  day  of  which  Scripture  says:  'This  is 
the  day  which  the  Lord  has  made.'7  Now,  although  it  is 
written  that  the  Lord's  Passover  should  be  celebrated  on  the 
fourteenth  day  of  the  first  month,  and  we  ought  to  look  for 
the  fourteenth  moon8  in  spring  for  celebrating  the  course 
of  the  Lord's  Passion,  we  should  understand  from  this  that 
for  a  solemnity  of  this  kind  we  must  have  either  the  perfection 
of  the  Church  or  the  fullness  of  clear  faith,  as  the  Prophet 
said  when  he  spoke  of  the  Son  of  God  that  'His  throne  shall 
be  as  the  sun  in  my  sight,  and  as  the  full  moon,  it  will  last 
forever.'9 

So  it  is  that  the  Lord,  having  done  wonderful  works  on 
earth,  having  deepened,  as  it  were,  the  faith  of  men's  minds, 
observed  that  it  was  the  time  of  His  Passion,  saying :  'Father, 
the  hour  has  come!  Glorify  thy  son,  that  thy  son  may 

4  Gal.  4.10,11. 

5  Virgil,  Georg.  L276. 

6  A  reference  to  current  suspicions  about  days,  as  recorded  by  Gellius 
5.7. 

7  Ps.  117.24. 

8  quartamdecimam  lunam. 

9  Ps.  88.37,38. 


192  SAINT  AMBROSE 

glorify  thee.'10  He  explains  elsewhere  that  He  wanted  special 
renown  in  celebrating  His  Passion,  saying:  cGo  and  say  to 
that  fox,  "Behold,  I  cast  out  devils  and  perform  cures  today 
and  tomorrow,  and  the  following  day  I  am  to  end  my 
course."  'n  Let  Jesus  end  His  course  in  those  who  are 
beginning  to  be  perfect,  so  that  through  their  faith  they  may 
believe  the  fullness  of  His  divinity  and  redemption. 

This  is  why  we  are  seeking  the  day  and  the  hour,  as 
Scripture  bids  us.  Even  the  Prophet  David  says:  clt  is  the 
time  for  thee  to  work,  O  Lord,'12  as  he  begs  for  understanding 
to  know  the  Lord's  testimonies.  And  Ecclesiastes  also  says: 
'All  things  have  their  season.'13  Jeremias  cries:  The  turtle 
and  the  swallow  and  the  sparrows  of  the  field  have  known  the 
times  of  their  coming.'14  What  is  more  evident  than  that  it 
is  said  of  the  Passion  of  the  Lord:  The  ox  knoweth  his 
owner  and  the  ass  his  master's  crib.'15  Let  us,  then,  know 
the  Lord's  crib  where  we  are  nourished,  fed,  and  refreshed, 

We  should  know  in  particular  the  time  when  the  har- 
monious prayer  of  the  sacred  night  is  poured  forth  throughout 
the  whole  world,  because  prayers  are  made  acceptable  in 
time,  as  Scripture  says:  cln  an  acceptable  time  I  heard  thee 
and  in  the  day  of  salvation  I  have  helped  thee.316  This  is 
the  time  of  which  the  Apostle  said:  'Behold  now  is  the 
acceptable  time;  behold  now  is  the  day  of  salvation.'17 

Accordingly,  it  is  necessary,  even  after  the  calculations 
of  the  Egyptians,  and  the  definitions  of  the  Church  at 
Alexandria  and  of  the  bishop18  of  the  Church  at  Rome, 

10  John  17.1. 

11  Luke  13.32. 

12  Ps.   118.126. 

13  Eccle.  3.1. 


14  Jer.  8.7. 

15  Isa.  1.3. 

16  Isa.  49.8. 

17  2  Cor.  6.3. 

18  episcopi  is  ambiguous  here;   our  reading  is   'post   .   .   .   definitiones 
episcopi  [genitive]  quoque  Romanae  Ecdesiae.' 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  193 

since  several  are  still  awaiting  my  opinion  by  letter,  to  write 
what  I  think  regarding  the  day  of  the  Passover.  Granted 
that  it  is  a  question  concerning  the  coming  day  of  the 
Passover,  we  are  stating  what  we  feel  should  be  maintained 
in  the  future,  if  such  a  question  should  ever  arise. 

Two  observances  are  necessary  in  solemnizing  the  Passover  : 
the  fourteenth  moon  and  the  first  month,  called  the  month 
of  new  fruits.19  Now,  that  we  may  not  seem  to  depart  from 
the  Old  Testament,  let  us  review  the  very  chapter  which 
concerns  the  day  for  celebrating  the  Passover.  Moses  tells 
the  people  to  keep  the  month  of  new  fruits,  specifying  that 
it  be  the  first  month,  saying:  'This  will  be  the  beginning  of 
months  for  you,  it  will  be  the  first  of  the  months  of  the  year; 
and  thou  shalt  offer  the  Passover  to  the  Lord  thy  God  on 
the  fourteenth  day  of  the  first  month.'20 

To  be  sure,  the  Law  'was  given  through  Moses;  grace 
and  truth  came  through  Jesus  Christ/21  He  who  spoke  the 
Law,  coming  later  Himself  through  a  virgin  in  later  times, 
accomplished  the  fulfillment  of  the  Law,  because  He  came 
not  to  destroy  the  Law  but  to  fulfill  it.22  He  celebrated  the 
Passover  in  a  week  when  the  fourteenth  of  the  month  fell 
on  the  fifth  day  [of  the  new  moon].  In  fact,  on  that  very 
day,  as  the  above  indicates,  He  ate  the  Passover  with  His 
disciples;  on  the  following  day,  that  is,  the  sixth  day  [of  the 
new  moon]  and  the  fifteenth  day  [of  the  month]  He  was 
crucified;  the  sixteenth  was  on  the  great  Sabbath,  and 
therefore  He  arose  from  the  dead  on  the  seventeenth. 

We  must  keep  the  law  regarding  Easter  in  such  a  way  that 
we  do  not  observe  the  fourteenth  as  the  day  of  the 
Resurrection;  that  day  or  one  very  close  to  it  is  the  day  of 

19  novorum. 

20  Exod.  12.1,6.  These  are  the  words  of  God  to  Moses  who  transmitted 
them  to  the  Israelites. 

21  John  1.7. 

22  Cf.   Matt.  5.17. 


194  SAINT  AMBROSE 

the  Passion,  because  the  feast  of  the  Resurrection  is  kept  on 
the  Lord's  day.  Moreover,  we  cannot  fast  on  the  Lord's 
day;  fasting  on  this  day  is  what  we  criticize  in  the  Man- 
ichaeans.  One  shows  disbelief  in  the  Resurrection  of  Christ 
if  he  proposes  a  law  of  fast  on  the  day  of  the  Resurrection, 
since  the  Law  says  that  the  Passover  should  be  eaten  with 
bitterness,  that  is,  with  sorrow  because  the  Author  of  our 
salvation  was  slain  by  mankind's  great  sacrilege.  On  the 
Lord's  day  the  Prophet  bids  us  rejoice,  saying:  This  is  the 
day  which  the  Lord  has  made,  let  us  be  glad  and  rejoice 
at  it.'23 

Consequently,  we  must  observe  both  the  day  of  the  Passion 
and  of  the  Resurrection,  to  have  a  day  of  bitterness  and  one 
of  joy,  fasting  on  one  day,  being  refreshed  on  the  other.  If 
it  happens,  however,  as  will  occur  next  time,  that  the  four- 
teenth day  of  the  first  month  is  the  Lord's  day,  since  we 
should  not  fast  on  that  day  nor  break  our  fast  on  the 
thirteenth  which  falls  on  the  Sabbath,  for  it  is  a  day  of 
special  observance  as  the  day  of  the  Passion,  the  celebration 
of  Easter  should  be  postponed  to  the  following  week.  Other- 
wise, it  happens  that  the  fifteenth  when  Christ  suffered  will 
be  on  the  second  day  of  the  week,  the  third  day  will  be  the 
sixteenth  when  the  Lord's  body  rested  in  the  tomb,  and  the 
fourth  day  will  be  on  the  seventeenth  when  the  Lord  arose. 

Therefore,  when,  as  will  happen  next  time,  the  three  holy 
days  run  into  the  following  week,  the  three  days  within 
which  He  suffered,  lay  in  the  tomb,  and  arose,  the  three 
days  of  which  He/ said:  'Destroy  this  temple  and  in  three 
days  I  will  raise  it  up/24  what  can  cause  troublesome  doubt 
in  us?  If  we  scruple  because  we  do  not  celebrate  the  day  of 
the  Passion  or  the  Resurrection  on  the  fourteenth,  recall 
that  the  Lord  Himself  suffered  not  on  the  fourteenth,  but 

23  Ps.  117.24. 

24  John  2.19. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  195 

on  the  fifteenth,  and  arose  on  the  seventeenth.  If  our  difficulty 
is  in  our  failing  to  observe  the  fourteenth  of  the  month 
which  falls  on  the  Lord's  day,  that  is,  April  18,  and  we  tell 
you  to  celebrate  the  following  Lord's  day,  there  is  authority 
for  this  practice,  too. 

A  short  while  ago,  when  the  fourteenth  of  the  first  month 
fell  on  the  Lord's  day,  the  solemnity  was  observed  on  the 
following  Lord's  day.  And  in  the  eighty-ninth  year  of  the 
era  of  Diocletian25  when  the  fourteenth  day  of  the  first  month 
fell  on  March  24,  we  celebrated  Easter  on  the  last  day  of 
March.  So,  too,  did  the  people  of  Alexandria  and  Egypt. 
They  wrote  to  say  that  when  the  fourteenth  fell  on  the 
twenty-eighth  day  of  the  month  of  Phamenoth26  they  cel- 
ebrated Easter  on  the  fifth  day  of  Pharmuth,27  which  is  the 
last  day  of  March.  Thus,  they  agreed  perfectly  with  us. 
Again,  in  the  ninety-third  year  of  the  era  of  Diocletian28 
when  the  fourteenth  fell  on  the  fourteenth  of  Pharmuth, 
which  is  April  9  and  happened  to  be  the  Lord's  day,  they 
celebrated  Easter  on  the  Lord's  day,  the  twenty-first  of 
Pharmuth,  or,  according  to  us,  April  16.  Since  we  are 
supplied  with  a  method  of  calculating  as  well  as  precedent, 
we  should  have  no  more  trouble  on  this  point. 

Here  something  else  demands  explanation,  the  fact  that 
some  think  we  will  be  celebrating  Easter  in  the  second  month, 
whereas  Scripture  says:  'Keep  the  first  month  of  new  fruits/29 
Yet  it  will  not  happen  that  we  celebrate  the  Passover  outside 

25  A.  D.  373. 

26  Phamenoth,  the  month  before  Pharmuth,  i.  e.,  the  seventh  month. 

27  Pharmuth,  so  called  in  honor  of  the  serpent  Renenutet    (later  pro- 
nounced Remute[t]) ,    'the  raising  goddess.'  She  was  worshiped  as  a 
more  special  harvest  goddess   than  Osiris  and  the  month  Pharmuth 
was  dedicated  to  her  evidently  because  the  harvest  once  fell  in  that 
month.  Cf.  Mythology  of  All  Races  ed.  L.  H.  Gray,  Vol.  12    (Boston 
1918)    66. 

28  A.  D.  377. 

29  Dent.   16.1. 


1 96  SAINT  AMBROSE 

of  the  month  ot  new  fruits  unless  the  fourteenth  is  kept 
exactly  to  the  letter,  and  is  not  celebrated  on  any  but  the 
very  day.  Now,  the  Jews  are  planning  to  celebrate  on  the 
twelfth,  that  is,  March  20  according  to  us,  and  it  will  be 
not  the  first  month.  However,  according  to  the  Egyptians  it 
will  be  the  twenty-fourth  day  of  Phamenoth,  which  is  not 
the  first  month,  but  the  twelfth  month.  The  Egyptians  call 
the  first  month  Pharmuth;  it  begins  March  27  and  ends  April 
25.  Thus,  in  accord  with  the  reckoning  of  the  Egyptians,  we 
will  be  celebrating  Easter  Sunday  in  the  first  month,  that 
is,  April  25,  the  thirtieth  day  of  Pharmuth. 

I  do  not  think  we  are  unreasonable  in  borrowing,  from 
the  country  where  the  first  Passover  was  celebrated,  an 
example  for  observing  the  month.  Our  predecessors,  too,  in 
the  ordinance  of  the  Council  of  Nicaea  thought  that  the  very 
same  nineteen-years'  cycle  should  be  decided  upon.  If  one 
carefully  considers  the  matter  [he  will  see]  that  they  pre- 
served the  month  of  the  new  fruits,  because  in  Egypt  grain 
is  cut  in  this  month.  This  month  is  not  only  the  first  as  far 
as  the  crops  of  the  Egyptians  are  concerned,  but  first  according 
to  the  Law,  and  it  is  the  eighth  month  with  us,  since  the 
induction30  begins  in  September.  April  1  is  in  the  eighth 
month,  yet  the  month  begins — according  to  the  experts, 
although  not  according  to  common  usage — with  the  equinox, 
March  21,  and  ends  April  21.  That  is  why  the  Passover  has 
usually  been  celebrated  within  these  thirty-one  days. 

Six  years  ago  we  celebrated  Easter  on  April  21,  which  was 
the  thirtieth  day  of  the  month,  as  we  reckon  it;  therefore, 
we  must  not  be  disturbed  to  be  soon  celebrating  Easter  on  the 

30  Ambrose  is  the  first  of  the  Latin  Fathers  to  mention  the  indiction. 
He  is  here  probably  referring  to  the  Constantinian  or  Constantino- 
politan  indiction  which  was  used  principally  in  the  Greek  East.  It 
began  September  1,  312,  as  the  schedule  of  rate  of  tax  to  be  raised  on 
capita  and  iuga  for  a  period  of  fifteen  years;  cf.  art.  'Indictio/  Oxford 
Classical  Dictionary  (Oxford  1949)  452. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  197 

thirtieth  day  of  Pharmuth.  If  anyone  says  it  is  in  the  second 
month,  since  Easter  will  occur  three  days  after  the  completed 
month,  which  appears  to  end  on  April  21,  he  should  realize 
that  our  concern  is  with  the  fourteenth  day,  which  occurs 
on  April  18,  well  within  the  month's  count.  The  Law  only 
requires  that  the  day  of  the  Passion  be  celebrated  within  the 
first  month  of  new  fruits. 

This  reckoning  is  satisfactory  as  far  as  the  full  month  is 
concerned,  since  it  still  has  three  days  remaining  for  its 
completion.  Easter  does  not  pass  into  a  different  month  when 
it  is  celebrated  within  the  same  month,  the  first.  And,  too, 
we  should  not  be  bound  to  the  letter  if  the  custom  of  the 
celebration  of  Easter  is  our  guide.  The  Apostle,  too,,  teaches 
us,  saying:  'Christ,  our  passover,  has  been  sacrificed.531  The 
passage  just  read  teaches  us  not  to  follow  the  letter,  for  you 
have  the  words:  'You  will  perform  the  Pasch  to  the  Lord 
your  God  on  the  fourteenth  day  of  the  first  month.'32  He 
uses  the  word  'day'  instead  of  'month';  consequently,  those 
skilled  in  the  Law  compute  the  month  by  the  course  of  the 
moon.  Since  the  course  of  the  moon,  that  is,  its  first  day, 
may  begin  on  more  than  one  of  the  nones,  you  see  that  the 
nones  of  May  can  still  be  reckoned  within  the  first  month 
of  new  fruits.  According  to  the  judgment  of  the  Law,  therefore5 
this  is  the  first  month.  Finally,  the  Greeks  call  the  moon 
mene  and  so  call  the  months  menas3  in  Greek,  while  the 
natural  practice  of  foreign  peoples  uses  the  term  'month'  in 
place  of  'days.' 

Yet,  the  writings  of  the  Old  Testament  show  that  we 
must  celebrate  the  Passion  one  day  and  the  Resurrection 
another.  You  have  the  words :  'And  it  will  be  a  lamb  without 
blemish,  clean,  perfect,  of  one  year,  a  male;  you  will  take 
it  from  the  sheep  and -goats,  and  it  will  be  for  the  observing 

31  1   Cor.  5.7. 

32  Exod.  12.18. 


198  SAINT  AMBROSE 

until  the  fourteenth  day  of  this  month,  and  the  whole 
multitude  of  the  sons  of  the  synagogue  of  Israel  will  slay  it 
at  evening  .and  take  of  its  blood  and  put  it  on  both  the  side 
posts,  and  on  the  upper  doorpost  of  the  house  in  which  they 
will  eat  it  together,  and  they  shall  eat  the  flesh  that  night 
roasted  at  the  fire.'33  And  further  on:  eAnd  you  will  eat  it 
with  care,  for  it  is  the  Phase  [Passage]  of  the  Lord  and  I 
will  pass  through  the  land  of  the  Egyptians  that  night  and 
will  kill  every  first-born  in  Egypt  of  man  and  beast,  and  I 
will  execute  judgment  on  all  the  land  of  Egypt.  I  am  the 
Lord.  And  the  blood  shall  be  unto  you  for  a  sign  in  the 
houses  where  you  shall  be;  and  I  shall  see  the  blood  and  I 
shall  protect  you,  and  the  plague  of  destruction  will  not  be 
upon  you.  And  I  shall  crush  the  land  of  Egypt  and  this  day 
will  be  a  memorial  and  solemnity  for  you,  and  you  will  keep 
it  a  feast  of  the  Lord  in  your  generations,  an  everlasting 
covenant,  you  will  keep  that  festival  day.'34 

We  note,  too,  that  the  day  of  the  Passion  is  appointed 
on  a  fast  day  because  the  lamb  is  to  be  slain  toward  evening, 
although  we  can  understand  'the  last  time'  instead  of  'evening' 
according  to  John  who  says:  'Children,  it  is  the  last  hour.'35 
But,  according  to  the  mystery,  it  is  certain  that  the  slaying 
took  place  in  the  evening  when  the  shadows  were  falling 
quickly,  and  the  fast  should  be  kept  on  that  day,  for  then 
you  will  eat  it  with  anxiety,  since  those  fasting  have  anxiety. 
On  the  day  of  the  Resurrection  there  is  the  joy  of  refreshment 
and  happiness,  for  it  appears  that  the  people  left  Egypt  on 
that  day,  after  the  first-born  of  the  Egyptians  had  been 
slain.  Later  details  indicate  this  more  clearly  where  Scripture 
says  that,  after  the  Jews  performed  the  Passover  as  Moses 
commanded,  'it  came  to  pass  at  midnight  the  Lord  struck 

33  Exod.   12.5-8. 

34  Exod.   12.11-14. 

35  1  John  2.18. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  199 

every  first-born  in  the  land  of  Egypt,  from  the  first-born  of 
Pharao.  And  Pharao  called  Moses  and  Aaron  in  the  night 
and  said  to  them:  " Arise  and  go  forth  from  among  my 
people,  you  and  your  children,  go  and  serve  the  Lord  your 
God."  J3G  The  Egyptians  even  urged  the  people  to  go,  hurry- 
ing to  drive  them  out  as  quickly  as  possible.  Whereupon, 
the  Israelites  departed  in  such  fashion  that  they  had  no 
chance  to  leaven  their  dough,  for  the  Egyptians  drove  them 
out  and  they  could  not  take  what  they  had  prepared  for 
their  journey. 

It  is  evident,  then,  that  the  day  of  the  Resurrection 
should  be  kept  after  the  day  of  the  Passion,  and  the  former 
should  not  be  on  the  fourteenth  of  the  month,  but  later,  as 
the  Old  Testament  says.  The  day  of  the  Resurrection  is  that 
on  which  the  people  departing  from  Egypt  were  baptized  in 
the  sea  and  in  the  cloud,  as  the  Apostle  says,37  and  overcame 
death,  receiving  a  spiritual  food  and  drinking  a  spiritual 
drink  from  the  rock.  Again,  the  Lord's  Passion  cannot  be 
celebrated  on  the  Lord's  day.  And,  if  the  fourteenth  day 
falls  on  the  Lord's  day,  another  week  should  be  added,  as 
was  done  in  the  seventy-sixth  year  of  the  era  of  Diocletian.3* 
Then,  with  no  hesitancy  on  the  part  of  our  predecessors,  we 
celebrated  the  Lord's  day  of  Passover  on  the  twenty-eighth 
of  Pharmuth,  April  23.  The  course  of  the  moon  and  careful 
calculation  support  this  plan  to  celebrate  the  next  Easter  on 
the  twenty-first  day,  because  the  month  is  commonly  extended 
to  the  twenty-first. 

Since  we  have  so  much  evidence  of  the  truth,  combined 
with  the  example  of  our  predecessors,  let  us  keep  the  feast 
of  the  people's  salvation  with  joy  and  gladness,  and  color 
our  doorposts  where  is  hung  the  door  of  the  Word,  which 

36  Exod.   12.29-31. 

37  Cf.  1   Cor.   10.2-4. 

38  A.  D.  360. 


200  SAINT  AMBROSE 

the  Apostle  wishes  to  be  opened  to  Him  with  faith  in  the 
Lord's  Passion.39  Of  this  door  David  also  speaks,  saying: 
cSet  a  watch,  O  Lord,  before  my  mouth,  and  a  guard  at  the 
door  of  my  lips/40  so  that  we  will  speak  of  nothing  but  the 
blood  of  Christ,  by  which  we  overcame  death,  by  which  we 
were  redeemed.  Let  the  sweet  odor  of  Christ  burn  in  us. 
Let  us  listen  to  Him,  let  us  direct  the  eyes  of  our  soul  and 
body  to  Him,  and  marvel  at  His  works  and  proclaim  His 
goodness.  Over  the  threshold  of  our  door  let  the  praise  of 
His  holy  Redemption  gleam.  Let  us  take  the  Sacrament  with 
fervent  soul  in  the  azymes  of  sincerity  and  truth,  chanting 
together  with  holy  wisdom  the  glory  of  the  Father  and 
Son,  and  the  undivided  majesty  of  the  Holy  Spirit. 


37.   Ambrose   to   Anatolius,   Numerius,   Severus,  Philippus^ 

Macedonius,  Ammianus,  Theodosius,  Eutropius, 

Clarus,  Eusebius,  and  Timotheus,  priests  of  the 

Lord,  and  to  all  the  beloved  clergy  and  people  of 

Thessalonica,  greetings  (383)1 

While  I  had  a  deep  longing  to  keep  always  in  mind  the 
saintly  man  and  to  scrutinize  his  acts,  stationed,  as  it  were, 
on  a  watchtower,  with  ever-enveloping  anxiety  I  drank  the 
bitter  draught  of  that  too  sudden  message  and  learned  what 
I  would  prefer  still  to  be  unacquainted  with,  that  the  one 
we  were  ever  seeking  on  earth  is  already  at  rest  in  heaven. 

You  ask  who  brought  this  message,  since  the  letter  of 
your  Holiness  had  not  yet  arrived.  I  do  not  recall  the 

39  Cf.  Col,  4.3. 

40  Ps.  140.3. 


1  Written  to  console  the  people  of  Macedonia  after  the  death  of  their 
bishop,   the  saintly  Acholius. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  201 

bearer  of  the  message;  we  generally  do  not  willingly  re- 
member the  messenger  of  sorrow.  And  although  at  that  time 
the  sea  was  closed  and  our  lands  held  fast  by  invading 
barbarians,  although  there  was  no  one  who  could  come, 
there  was  not  lacking  one  to  bring  that  message.  It  seems 
to  me  that  the  saint  himself  was  his  own  messenger  to  us, 
because,  having  received  the  everlasting  reward  of  his  labors, 
and  being  set  free  from  the  chains  of  the  body,  fast  by  the 
side  of  Christ  amid  the  ministry  of  angels,  he  wished  to 
dispel  the  cloud  of  doubt  of  one  who  loved  him,  lest  we 
should  pray  for  long  life  for  one  to  whom  the  rewards  of 
eternal  life  were  already  being  given. 

He  departed,  he  did  not  die;  this  veteran  soldier  of  Jesus 
Christ  left  us,  exchanging  the  soil  of  this  earth  for  heaven. 
Beating  his  wings,  the  oarage  of  his  spirit,  he  says:  'Lo,  I 
have  gone  far  off  flying  away.'2  In  the  spirit  of  the  Apostle 
he  wanted  long  ago  to  leave  this  earth,  but  he  was  detained 
by  the  prayers  of  all,  as  we  read  of  the  Apostle,3  because 
the  Church  had  need  of  his  abiding  longer  in  the  flesh.  He 
lived  not  for  his  own  interests  but  for  those  of  all,  and  he 
was  to  his  people  the  dispenser  of  eternal  life,  experiencing 
the  enjoyment  of  it  in  others  before  knowing  it  in  himself. 

Now  he  is  an  inhabitant  of  the  regions  above,  an  occupant 
of  the  eternal  city  Jerusalem,  which  is  in  heaven.  He  sees 
there  that  city's  boundless  boundary,4  its  pure  gold,  its 
precious  stone,  and  its  perpetual  light  which  knows  no  sun. 
Seeing  all  these,  known  to  him  for  a  long  time,  but  now 
revealed  face  to  face,  he  says:  'As  we  have  heard,  so  have 
we  seen,  in  the  city  of  the  Lord  of  hosts,  in  the  city  of  our 
God.'5  Stationed  there,  he  addresses  the  people  6f  God,  say- 

2  PS.  54.8. 

3  Cf.   Phil.   1.23,24. 

4  mensuram   immensam. 

5  Ps.  47.9. 


202  SAINT  AMBROSE 

ing:  CO  Israel,  how  great  is  the  house  of  God,  and  how  vast 
is  the  place  of  his  possession!  It  is  great  and  hath  no  end.'6 

But  what  is  happening?  While  I  am  pondering  the  merits 
of  the  man,  and,  as  it  were,  following  him  in  spirit  as  he 
departs,  and  mingling  with  the  choirs  of  the  saints  who  are 
escorting  him — not  by  any  virtue  of  mine,  but  by  my 
affection — I  am  almost  forgetful  of  myself.  Has  there  not 
been  taken  from  us  a  wall  of  faith,  of  grace,  and  of  sanctity? 
Often,  although  troops  of  Goths  besieged  this  wall,7  their 
barbarian  weapons  have  never  been  able  to  penetrate,  nor 
has  the  warlike  fury  of  many  nations  been  able  to  take  it 
by  storm.  In  other  lands  they  sought  plunder,  but  in  your 
land  peace.  And  when  men  wonder  what  brings  them  to  a 
halt  without  benefit  of  a  soldier,  the  wise  suggest  that  a  man 
who  resembles  Eliseus  is  within,  like  him  in  age,  not  unlike 
him  in  spirit;  let  them  beware  [they  say]  lest  blindness 
overwhelm  them  as  it  did  the  Syrian  ranks.8 

Yet  around  Christ's  disciples  are  His  various  gifts.  Eliseus 
led  the  captive  lines  of  the  Syrians  into  Samaria,  while  the 
saintly  Acholius  by  his  prayers  drove  the  victors  from 
Macedonia.  Do  we  not  see  it  was  by  a  higher  power  that 
from  where  there  was  no  soldier  they  were  routed  without  a 
soldier?  Is  it  not  blindness  for  them  to  have  fled  whom  no 
one  pursued?  Truly  the  saintly  Acholius  was  attacking  and 
engaging  them,  not  with  swords  but  with  prayers,  not  with 
spears  but  by  his  merits. 

Or  do  we  not  know  that  the  saints  keep  up  the  struggle 
even  when  they  are  unoccupied?  Was  not  Eliseus  enjoying 
quiet?  Yes,  his  body  was  quiet  but  his  spirit  was  all  aquiver, 

6  Bar.  3.24,25. 

7  A  reference  to  the  guerilla  warfare  which  Theodosius  waged  against 
the    Goths    from    Thessalonica.    A    pestilence    which    Ambrose   here 
attributes    to    the   prayers   of   Acholius    eventually    caused    a    severe 
though  temporary  setback  for  the  Goths. 

8  Cf.  4  Kings  7, 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  203 

and  he  did  battle  by  his  prayers  when  the  cry  of  horsemen 
was  heard  in  the  Syrian  camp  along  with  the  cry  of  a 
great  host.  In  fact,  the  Syrians  thought  that  the  armies  of 
other  kings  were  coming  upon  them  to  aid  the  people  of 
Israel.  For  this  reason  they  fled  in  great  fear,  and  four  lepers 
who  had  come  forth,  longing  for  death,  contaminated  the 
camp  of  the  enemy.  Did  not  the  Lord  work  similar  or  almost 
greater  miracles  in  Macedonia  by  the  prayers  of  the  saintly 
Acholius?  For,  not  by  vain  fear  or  vague  suspicion,  but  by  a 
raging  plague  and  burning  pestilence,  were  the  Goths  routed 
and  terrorized.  In  fact,  they  fled  at  first  to  escape,  but  later 
came  back  and  sued  for  peace  to  live. 

In  the  deeds  of  this  great  man  we  have  seen  ages  past 
and  we  have  witnessed  the  works  of  those  Prophets  of  which 
we  used  to  read.  Like  Eliseus,  while  he  lived,  Acholius  spent 
his  days  amid  armies  and  battles,  bringing  wars  to  an  end  by 
his  good  deeds.  At  last,  when  peace  was  restored  to  his 
countrymen,  he  gave  up  his  holy  spirit,  a  misfortune  harsher 
than  the  war  itself.  Like  Elias  he  has  been  taken  up  to 
heaven,9  not  in  a  fiery  chariot,  or  by  fiery  steeds — unless, 
perchance,  we  did  not  see  them — or  in  a  fiery  whirlwind, 
but  by  the  will  and  favor  of  our  God,  and  with  the  joy  of 
all  the  holy  angels  who  rejoiced  that  one  so  great  had  come 
to  them. 

Certainly  we  cannot  doubt  these  facts  since  other  details 
agree  so  well.  At  the  very  moment  when  he  was  being  taken 
up,  letting  his  garment  fall,  as  it  were,  he  put  it  on  blessed 
Anysius,10  his  own  disciple,  and  vested  him  with  the  miter 
of  the  episcopal  office.  I  am  not  hearing  of  his  deeds  and 
favor  now  for  the  first  time,  nor  did  I  learn  of  them  in  letters 
from  you,  but  I  recalled  them  from  your  letters.  Knowing 
beforehand  that  he  would  be  his  successor,  Acholius  kept 

9  Cf.  4  Kings  2.11. 
10  To  whom  Ambrose  addressed  a  letter  of  encouragement. 


204  SAINT  AMBROSE 

assuring  him  by  promises,  marking  him  with  special  tokens, 
speaking  of  the  help  he  had  received  through  his  care  and 
labor  and  ministry.  He  seemed  already  to  declare  him  his 
coadjutor  so  that  he  might  come  not  like  a  tyro  to  the  high 
office  of  the  episcopate,  but  like  a  veteran  and  an  accom- 
plished performer  of  the  priestly  office.  To  him  is  applied 
very  beautifully  that  saying  of  the  Gospel:  'Well  done,  good 
and  faithful  servant;  because  thou  hast  been  faithful  over  a 
few  things,  I  will  set  thee  over  many.'11 

These  thoughts  about  the  saintly  Acholius  you  and  I  have 
in  common.  I  have  a  special  attachment  to  this  man  of 
blessed  memory,  since  he  made  it  possible  for  me  to  know 
him.  For,  when  he  came  to  Italy  and  I  was  confined  by  an 
illness  so  serious  that  I  could  not  go  to  meet  him,  he  himself 
came  and  visited  me.12  With  what  fondness  and  affection  did 
we  rush  into  each  other's  embrace !  With  what  groans  did  we 
deplore  the  evils  of  our  age  and  the  events  taking  place  here 
so  that  we  moistened  our  garments  with  a  stream  of  tears 
all  the  while  we  two  enjoyed  this  hoped-for  meeting  and  I 
clung  to  the  embrace  of  one  so  long  desired.  Thus  did  his 
kindness  make  possible  my  prayer  to  see  him,  and  although 
in  the  soul,  the  seat  of  love,  the  greater  share  and  deeper 
knowledge  of  others  reside,  we  also  desire  to  see  our  friends 
in  person.  Therefore,  in  times  past  the  kings  of  the  earth 
sought  to  see  the  face  of  Solomon  and  to  hear  his  wisdom.13 

But  Acholius  has  gone  from  us  and  left  us  on  this  sea.  An 
event  which  is  beneficial  to  him  is  harder  upon  many  than  was 
the  fury  of  the  barbarians.  He  used  to  drive  them  off;  but  who 
will  be  able  to  take  his  place  for  us?  The  Lord  takes  his  place 
and  in  his  disciple  he  succeeds  himself.  Your  decisions  re- 

11  Matt   25.23. 

12  This   probably   took   place  at   the  Council   of  Rome    in   382   when 
Ambrose  fell  ill  soon  after  his  arrival  and  was  confined  to  his  bed 
at  his  sister's  home. 

13  Cf.  3  Kings  10.24. 


LETTERS  TO  BISHOPS  205 

present  him  whereby  it  has  been  said:  'Grant  to  Levi  those 
who  are  manifest  as  his,  and  his  truth  in  the  holy  man/14 
You  have  chosen  one  who  is  manifestly  his,  inasmuch  as  he 
was  grounded  in  his  teaching;  you  have  chosen  an  imitator 
of  that  man  who  said  to  his  father  and  mother:  1  do  not 
know  you.'15  This  man,  too,  has  not  acknowledged  his 
brothers  and  did  not  know  his  sons;  he  has  kept  the  word 
of  the  Lord  and  observed  His  Testament.  The  people  will 
declare  his  justice.16 

Such  was  this  man's  life,  such  his  heritage,  his  way  of 
life,  his  succession.  As  a  youth  he  entered  a  monastery;  he 
was  enclosed  in  a  narrow  cell  in  Achaia  while  by  grace  he 
wandered  over  the  space  of  many  lands.  Having  been  called 
to  the  fullness  of  the  priesthood  by  the  people  of  Macedonia, 
he  was  elected  by  the  clergy;  and  where  formerly  the  faith 
was  weakened17  through  its  priest,  there,  later,  through  a 
priest  the  foundation  walls  of  faith  were  made  firm. 

Imitating  no  one  else,  he  is  a  disciple  of  him  'who  said 
to  his  father  and  mother:  "I  have  not  seen  you/5318  He 
saw  them  not  with  longing  or  with  affection,  and  he  did  not 
know  his  brethren  because  he  desired  to  know  the  Lord.  He 
observed  the  word  of  the  Lord  and  kept  His  Testament,  and 
he  will  always  lay  honor  upon  His  altar.  O  Lord,  bless  his 
faith,  his  holiness,  his  zeal!  May  Thy  blessings  come  upon 
his  head  and  his  shoulders!  May  he  be  like  the  bull  in  the 
herd;  may  he  toss  the  hearts  of  his  enemy  and  melt  the  souls 
of  the  saints,  and  may  the  judgment  of  Thy  priests  flourish 
in  him  like  a  lily.19 

Farewell,  brethren,  and  love  me  as  I  also  love  you. 

14  Cf.  Deut.  33.8. 

15  Deut.   33.9. 

16  Cf.  Eccli.  44.15. 

17  Several  mss.  read  claudebat    ('closed') ,  but  this  is  no  less  difficult  to 
construe    than    claudebatur.    The    Benedictines    suggest    claudicabat 

('was  lame') ,  which  agrees  well  with  the  sense  of  the  following  phrase. 

18  Cf.  Deut.  33.9. 

19  Cf.  Deut.  33.16,17;  Eccli.  39.19. 


SYNODAL  LETTERS 


38.  To  the  beloved  brethren,  the  Bishops  of  Vienne  and 

Narbonne  in  Gaul,   the   Council  which  met  at 

Aquileia  (May,  381) 

|E  GIVE  THANKS  to  your  holy  Unanimity  which  hon- 
ored us  with  the  presence  of  all  of  you  in  the  persons 
of  our  lords  and  brethren,  Constantius  and  Proculus. 
At  the  same  time,  following  the  customs  of  your  predecessors, 
you  added  no  slight  weight  to  our  deliberations  when  your 
Holiness  agreed  to  our  statements,  dearly  beloved  lords  and 
brethren.  Therefore,  as  we  gladly  welcomed  those  revered 
men  of  your  assembly  and  ours,  so  are  we  sending  them 
away  with  a  rich  testimony  of  thanks. 

How  necessary  was  a  meeting  such  as  we  held  is  evident 
from  the  very  events  which  took  place,  namely,  that  our 
adversaries,  enemies  of  God,  those  defenders  of  the  Arian 
sect  and  heresy,  Palladium  and  Secundianus,  the  only  two 
who  dared  come  to  the  council,  received  their  due  sentence, 
and  were  convicted  of  impiety. 

Farewell.  May  our  God  omnipotent  keep  you  safe  and 
prosperous,  our  lords,  most  beloved  brethren.  Amen. 

207 


208  SAINT  AMBROSE 

39.  To  the  most  clement  and  most  Christian  Emperors  and 

most  blessed  princes  Gratian,   Valentiniany  and 

Theodosius,    the    holy    Council    which    met    at 

Aquileia  (May,  381) 

Blessed  be  God  the  Father  of  our  Lord  Jesus  Christ  who 
gave  you  the  Roman  Empire,  and  blessed  be  our  Lord  Jesus 
Christ,  the  only-begotten  Son  of  God,  who  guards  your  rule 
with  His  love,  in  whom  we  give  thanks  to  you,  most  gracious 
Princes.  You  have  proven  the  zeal  of  your  faith,  being 
zealous  to  assemble  a  council  of  bishops1  for  the  removal  of 
discord,  and  by  your  favor  you  granted  honor  to  the  bishops 
so  that  no  one  who  wished  to  attend  was  absent,  and  no 
one  was  forced  to  attend  against  his  will. 

Therefore,  in  accord  with  the  order  of  your  Mildness  we 
met  without  unpleasantness  of  crowds  and  with  the  in- 
tention of  debating  the  issues.  No  heretical  bishops  were 
found  in  attendance  except  Palladius  and  Secundianus, 
names  of  long-standing  disloyalty,  on  whose  account  men 
from  the  farthest  reachqs  of  the  Roman  world  asked  that  a 
council  be  summoned.  No  one  burdened  with  the  years  of 
old  age  and  with  grey  hairs,  which  in  themselves  are  ven- 
erable, was  forced  to  come  from  distant  shores  of  the  ocean. 
Nevertheless,  the  council  lacked  nothing.  No  one  dragging 
a  weak  body  burdened  with  the  rigors  of  fasting  was  forced 
by  the  difficulty  of  the  journey  to  lament  the  hardships  laid 
upon  his  ruined  strength.  Finally,  no  one  groaned  if  destitute 
of  the  means  of  coming  because  of  poverty  so  laudable  in 
bishops.  That  which  holy  Scripture  has  praised  was  fulfilled 

1  For  the  date,  see  J.  Zeller,  'La  date  du  concile  d'Aquilee/  Revue 
d'histoire  ecdesiastique  33  (1937)  39-45.  The  authentic  official  account 
of  the  Council  (Gesta  concilii  Aquiliensis:  PL  16.939-949)  is  supple- 
mented by  four  synodal  letters  included  in  Ambrose's  correspondence, 
since  he  probably  drew  them  up.  See  also  Dissertatio  Maximini 
contra  Ambrosium,  an  Arian  pamphlet  published  a  little  later  (ed. 
Kaufrnann,  1899). 


SYNODAL  LETTERS  209 

in  you,  most  clement  of  princes,  Gratian:  'Blessed  is  he  that 
takes  thought  for  the  needy  and  poor.'2 

How  truly  serious  it  would  have  been  if,  because  of  only  two 
priests  withering  away  with  disloyalty,  the  churches  over  the 
whole  world  were  deprived  of  their  greatest  bishops?  Although 
some  from  the  western  provinces  were  unable  to  come  in 
person  because  of  the  length  of  the  journey,  almost  all  from 
the  western  provinces  were  present  in  the  delegates  they  sent, 
and  gave  evident  proofs  that  they  held  what  we  assert  and 
that  they  were  in  harmony  with  the  proceeding  of  the  Council 
of  Nicaea  as  their  documents  declared.  Everywhere  now  the 
prayers  of  nations  are  raised  in  concert  for  the  welfare  of 
your  empire,  and  the  defenders  of  the  faith  have  not  failed 
your  wishes.  Although  our  predecessors'  decrees,  from  which 
it  is  unholy  and  sacrilegious  to  deviate,  were  plain,  we  made 
it  possible  to  discuss  even  these. 

First  we  examined  the  root  of  the  matter  under  invest- 
igation and  decided  to  read  the  letter  of  Arius,  who  is  found 
to  be  the  author  of  the  Arian  heresy,  and  from  whom  the 
heresy  gets  its  name.  Then,  those  who  had  always  main- 
tained that  they  were  not  Arians  could,  by  censuring  the 
contents  of  the  letter,  condemn  the  blasphemies  of  Arius,  or 
defend  them  by  additional  arguments,  or,  at  least,  not  refuse 
the  name  of  him  whose  irreligion  and  disloyalty  they  followed. 
Inasmuch  as  they  could  not  condemn  and  were  unwilling  to 
give  approval  to  their  own  founder,  and  three  days  pre- 
viously had  challenged  us  to  a  discussion  at  a  fixed  place 
and  time,  not  waiting  for  the  assembly  to  begin,  those  who 
had  said  they  would  readily  prove  that  they  were  Christians 
(which  we  heard  with  joy  and  hoped  they  would  prove) 
suddenly  began  to  leave  the  meeting  and  to  refuse  to  debate 
further. 

2  Ps.  40.2. 


210  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Nevertheless,  we  had  already  had  a  great  deal  of  discussion 
with  them;  the  holy  Scriptures  were  brought  into  our 
midst;  the  opportunity  for  patient  discussion  was  offered  from 
dawn  until  the  seventh  hour.  Would  that  they  had  spoken  on 
only  a  few  matters  or  that  we  were  able  to  forget  all  we 
heard!  Since  Arius  says  in  sacrilegious  phrases  that  only  the 
Father  is  eternal,  only  He  is  good,  only  He  is  true  God, 
only  He  has  immortality,  only  He  is  wise,  only  He  is  power- 
ful, and  by  impious  inference  wishes  the  Son  to  be  thought 
of  as  not  partaking  of  these  attributes,  these  men  preferred 
to  follow  Arius  rather  than  admit  that  the  Son  of  God  was 
the  eternal  God,  the  true  God,  the  good  God,  wise,  powerful, 
and  possessing  immortality.  We  spent  many  hours  in  vain. 
Their  impiety  mounted  and  could  in  no  way  be  checked. 

Finally,  when  they  realized  that  they  were  hard  pressed 
by  the  sacrileges  contained  in  Arius'  letter  (which  we  have 
appended  so  that  your  Clemency  may  al^o  realize  the  pain 
it  caused)  they  jumped  up  in  the  midst  of  the  reading  of 
the  letter  and  demanded  that  we  answer  their  proposals. 
Although  it  was  not  consonant  with  the  order  of  the  day  or 
with  reason  that  we  interrupt  the  agenda,  and  we  had  said 
that  in  reply  they  should  condemn  Arius'  heresies,  and  in 
due  order  and  in  a  set  place  we  would  reply  to  their  charges, 
notwithstanding,  we  agreed  to  their  preposterous  wish.  Then, 
falsely  interpreting  the  reading  of  the  Gospel,  they  proposed 
to  us  that  the  Lord  had  said:  'He  who  sent  me  is  greater 
than  I,'  although  the  context  of  Scripture  teaches  otherwise. 

They  were  made  to  admit  the  falsehood,  although  they 
still  were  not  corrected  by  reason.  For,  when  we  said  that 
the  Son  was  said  to  be  less  than  the  Father  in  His  taking  of 
a  body,  but  that  in  His  divinity  He  is  proved  by  the  testimony 
of  Scripture  to  be  like  and  equal  to  the  Father,  and  that 
there  could  be  no  difference  in  degree  of  rank  or  greatness, 


SYNODAL  LETTERS  211 

where  there  was  unity  of  power,  they  not  only  refused  to 
correct  their  error,  but  even  began  to  be  more  enraged  and  to 
say  that  the  Son  was  subject  in  His  divinity,  as  if  there  could 
be  any  subjection  of  God  in  His  divinity  and  majesty.  Finally, 
they  attributed  His  death  not  to  the  mystery  of  our  salvation 
but  to  some  weakness  of  His  divinity. 

We  shudder  to  think,  most  clement  Princes,  of  these 
dreadful  sacrileges,  these  corrupt  teachers.  And  that  they 
may  not  further  deceive  the  people  whom  they  govern,  we 
have  decided  that  they  should  be  deprived  of  their  priestly 
power,  since  they  agreed  to  the  impiety  in  the  document 
presented  to  them.  It  is  not  fitting  that  they  claim  for  them- 
selves the  priesthood  of  One  whom  they  deny.  We  beg  your 
faith  and  glory  to  manifest  the  reverence  of  your  authority 
to  Him  who  is  its  source,  and  determine  that  these  pro- 
claimers  of  impiety  and  corrupters  of  the  truth,  by  a  rescript 
of  your  Clemency  to  competent  authority,  be  barred  from 
the  doors  of  the  Church,  and  that,  in  place  of  the  guilty  ones, 
holy  priests  be  delegated  through  the  legates  of  our  Littleness. 

The  same  opinion  was  held  by  Attalus,  a  priest  who 
admitted  his  collusion  with  and  adherence  to  the  sacrilegious 
teachings  of  Palladius.  Why  should  we  speak  of  his  master 
Julian  Valens?  Although  he  lived  close  by,  he  refused  to 
attend  the  council  of  bishops,  fearing  he  would  be  compelled 
to  explain  before  the  bishops  the  ruin  of  his  country  and  the 
betrayal  of  his  citizens.  He,  desecrated  by  the  impiety  of  the 
Goths,  is  said  to  have  even  dared  like  a  heathen,  wearing 
necklace  and  bracelets,  to  make  his  appearance  before  the 
Roman  army.  Such  conduct  is  obviously  sacrilegious,  not  only 
in  a  bishop  but  in  any  Christian  whatsoever.  It  is  also  alien 
to  Roman  custom,  although  the  idolatrous  worshipers  of  the 
Goths  are  accustomed  to  appear  thus. 

May  the  name  of  bishop  move  your  Holiness,  a  name 


212  SAINT  AMBROSE 

which  that  unholy  person  disgraces.  He  is  convicted  of 
unspeakable  wickedness  by  the  statements  of  his  people  who 
still  survive.  Let  him  at  least  return  to  his  own  home,  let 
him  not  befoul  the  cities  of  a  very  flourishing  Italy.  At 
present,  by  illegal  ordinations  he  associates  with  himself  men 
like  himself  and  through  certain  reprobate  persons  seeks  to 
leave  the  seeds  of  his  impiety  and  treachery.  He  has  not  even 
begun  to  be  a  bishop.  First  of  all,  he  replaced  the  saintly 
Mark  at  Pettau,  a  priest  of  holy  memory.  Being  unable  to 
stay  at  Pettau,  he  is  now  at  Milan  after  the  overthrow,  or, 
let  us  say,  'betrayal/  of  his  country. 

May  your  Piety,  therefore,  deign  to  counsel  us  on  all 
these  matters,  so  we  will  not  appear  to  have  met  in  vain 
when  we  complied  with  the  ordinances  of  your  Tranquility. 
Care  must  be  taken  not  only  that  our  decrees  but  also  yours 
be  not  held  in  dishonor.  Therefore,  we  beg  your  Clemency 
to  hear  with  all  indulgence  the  delegates  of  the  council,  holy 
men,  and  bid  them  return  as  soon  as  possible  with  those 
things  accomplished  which  we  ask.  Thus  may  you  receive  a 
reward  from  the  Lord  God,  Christ,  whose  Church  you  have 
rid  of  all  stain  of  sacrilege. 

You  have  also  removed  the  Photinians,3  who  by  a  former 
law  you  had  decreed  should  hold  no  assemblies,  revoking, 
too,  that  law  which  was  passed  regarding  the  meeting  of  a 
council  of  bishops.  We  ask  your  Clemency,  knowing  that 
their  assemblies  are  still  being  held  in  Sirmium,  though  these 

3  Followers  of  Photinus,  a  heretic,  a  native  of  Ancyra  and  bishop  of 
Sirmium.  Reviving  Sabellianism,  he  denied  the  plurality  of  Persons  in 
the  Trinity.  He  was  condemned  at  Antioch    (344) ,  at  Milan    (347) , 
and  deposed  by  the  first  Synod  of  Sirmium.  His  condemnation  was 
confirmed  by  the  second  Ecumenical  Council,  He  died  in  366.  Cf. 
J.  Thein,  Ecclesiastical  Dictionary    (New  York  1900) . 

4  Gratian  complied  with  the  request  of  the  bishops;  cf.  Letter  42,  below. 


SYNODAL  LETTERS  213 

assemblies  have  been  put  under  interdict,  that  you  give  orders 
to  have  reverence  shown  first  to  the  Catholic  Church  and 
then  to  your  laws,  so  that,  with  God  as  your  patron,  you 
may  triumph,  while  you  provide  for  the  peace  and  tranquility 
of  the  churches.4 


40.  To  the   most   dement  Emperors  and   most   Christian 

Princes,  most  glorious  and  most  blessed  Gratian, 

Valentinian,  and  Theodosius,  the  Council  which 

met  at  Aquileia  (May,  381) 

Provision  has  been  made,  most  clement  Princes,  by  the 
enactments  of  your  Tranquility,  that  the  disbelief  of  the 
Arians  may  not  be  further  hidden  or  spread  abroad,  for  we 
do  not  anticipate  the  decrees  of  the  council  being  without 
effect.  As  regards  the  West,  only  two  individuals  have  been 
found  to  dare  oppose  the  council  with  profane  and  blas- 
phemous remarks,  men  who  had  previously  thrown  into 
confusion  only  a  small  corner  of  southern  Dacia.1 

There  is  another  reason  which  distresses  us  more,  which 
we  had  to  treat  when  we  assembled,  lest  it  spread  over  the 
whole  body  of  the  Church  scattered  thoughout  the  world, 
and  thus  throw  everything  into  confusion.  Although  we 
generally  agreed  that  Ursinus2  could  not  have  deceived  your 
Piety  (although  he  allows  no  tranquility  and,  amid  the 
countless  exigencies  of  war,  attempts  an  ill-timed  deceit),  yet, 
that  your  holy  mind  and  tranquiiity  of  soul,  which  delight  in 

1  On  the  Danube. 

2  Ursinus,  antipope,  was  elected  in  366  by  jealous  adherents  of  Liberius 
after  the  election  by  a  large  majority  of  Pope  Damasus.  Eventually, 
Ursinus  came  to  Milan  where  he  found  adherents  among  the  Arians 
there. 


2 14  SAINT  AMBROSE 

taking  thought  for  all,  may  not  be  swayed  by  the  false 
adulation  of  that  unreasonable  man,  we  think  it  right,  if  you 
condescendingly  allow  it,  to  pray  and  beseech  you,  not  only 
to  guard  against  future  events,  but  also  to  be  alarmed  over 
that  which  has  been  achieved  by  his  temerity.  For,  if  he 
found  any  avenue  for  his  boldness,  what  would  he  not  put 
into  confusion? 

If  pity  for  a  single  person  can  influence  you,  let  the 
prayer  of  all  the  bishops  move  you  much  more.  Who  of  us 
will  be  joined  in  fellowship  with  him,  when  he  has  tried  to 
usurp  a  position  not  due  to  him,  and  to  which  he  could  not 
rightfully  attain,  and  tries  to  regain  most  unreasonably  what 
he  has  unreasonably  sought?  As  often  as  he  has  been  found 
guilty  of  disturbances,  he  still  goes  on,  as  though  undeterred 
by  past  experiences.  Generally  (as  we  ascertained  and  saw 
in  the  present  council),  he  was  in  union  and  combination 
with  the  Arians,  when,  in  company  with  Valens,3  he  tried  to 
throw  into  confusion  the  Church  at  Milan,  holding  secret 
assemblies,  sometimes  before  the  doors  of  the  synagogue, 
sometimes  in  the  homes  of  Arians,  and  getting  his  friends  to 
join  them.  Then,  since  he  himself  could  not  openly  enter  their 
assemblies,  teaching  and  informing  them  how  the  peace  of 
the  Church  might  be  disturbed,  he  drew  fresh  courage  from 
their  madness  when  he  was  able  to  earn  the  favor  of  their 
supporters  and  allies. 

Since  it  is  written:  £A  factious  man  avoid  after  a  first 
admonition,3*  and  since  another  who  spoke  by  the  Holy 
Spirit  said  that  beasts  of  this  sort  should  be  spurned  and 
not  received  with  greeting  or  welcome,5  how  can  we  not 

3  Julian  Valens  of  Pettau  had  the  assistance  of  the  antipope  Ursinus, 
who  bore  a  grudge  against  Ambrose  because  the  latter  supported  Pope 
Damasus. 

4  Tit.  3.10. 

5  Cf.  2  John  10. 


SYNODAL  LETTERS  215 

judge  the  person  whom  we  have  seen  united  to  their  society 
to  be  also  an  exponent  of  disbelief?  Even  if  he  were  not 
there,  we  would  nevertheless  have  besought  your  Clemency 
not  to  allow  disturbance  to  reach  the  Roman  Church,  head 
of  the  whole  Roman  world,  and  that  sacred  trust  of  the 
Apostles,  whence  flow  all  the  rights  of  venerable  communion 
upon  all  persons.  We  therefore  beg  and  beseech  you  to  deprive 
him  of  the  means  of  stealing  advantage  from  you. 

We  know  your  Clemency's  holy  modesty.  Let  him  not 
press  upon  you  words  unfit  for  your  hearing,  or  give  his 
noisy  utterance  to  what  is  foreign  to  the  office  and  name  of 
priest,  or  say  to  you  what  is  unseemly.  Since  he  must  have  a 
good  reputation  at  least  with  those  who  are  outside,6  may 
your  Clemency  condescend  to  recall  what  is  his  reputation 
among  his  own  fellow  citizens.  It  is  shameful  to  say  and 
immodest  to  repeat  how  disgraceful  is  the  rumor  which  does 
him  harm.  Shame  over  this  should  have  kept  him  silent,  and, 
if  he  had  some  of  a  bishop's  conscience,  he  would  prefer 
the  Church's  peace  and  concord  to  his  own  ambition  and 
inclination.  But,  far  removed  from  all  embarrassment,  send- 
ing letters  through  Paschasius,  an  excommunicated  individual, 
the  standard-bearer  of  his  madness,  he  sows  confusion,  and 
tries  to  excite  even  heathens  and  abandoned  characters, 

We  therefore  beg  that  through  the  removal  of  this  very 
troublesome  person  you  will  restore  peace  to  us  bishops  and 
to  the  Roman  people  whose  security  has  been  interrupted 
and  whose  condition  at  present  keeps  them  in  uncertainty 
and  suspense,  now  that  the  city  prefect  has  made  an  appeal. 
Attaining  this,  let  us  in  continual  accord  offer  thanks  to 
God  the  almighty  Father  and  Christ,  also  the  Lord  God. 

6  Cf.   1  Tim.  3.7. 


216  SAINT  AMBROSE 

4L  To  the  most  dement  and  most  Christian  Emperors  and 
the   most  glorious   and    most   blessed   Princes, 
Gratian,  Valentinian,  and  Theodosius,  the  holy 
Council  which  met  at  Aquileia  (June,  381) 

We  are  unable,  even  with  the  most  overflowing  return  of 
thanks,  to  match  the  benefits  of  your  Piety,  most  clement 
Emperors,  most  blessed  and  glorious  Princes,  Gratian,  Valen- 
tinian,  and  Theodosius,  beloved  of  God  the  Father  and  of 
His  Son  our  Lord  Jesus  Christ.  After  many  seasons  and 
various  persecutions  which  the  Arians  brought  upon  all 
Catholics,  and  especially  Lucius,1  who  attacked  monks  and 
virgins  with  unholy  slaughter,  and  Demophilus,2  too,  a  dread 
source  of  impiety,  all  the  churches  of  God,  particularly  in  the 
East,  have  been  restored  to  the  Catholics;  and  in  the  West 
just  two  heretics  have  been  found  to  oppose  the  holy  council. 
Who,  then,  would  feel  able  to  make  acknowledgment  ade- 
quate to  your  favors? 

Although  we  cannot  express  your  favors  in  words,  we  still 
desire  to  compensate  them  by  the  prayers  of  the  council. 
Although  in  all  of  our  several  churches  we  celebrate  vigils 
each  day  before  God  for  your  Empire,  yet  assembled  to- 
gether, thinking  no  service  more  glorious,  we  offer  thanks  to 

1  Lucius   was   forced   upon    the   Church    at  Alexandria    by   Paliadius, 
governor  of  the  province,  in  place  of  Peter,  the  duly  elected  successor 
of  Athanasius.  He  was  later  expelled  from  the  see  he  had  usurped. 
Cf.  Theodoret,  H.  E.  4.19;  Socrates,  H.  E.  4.37. 

2  Demophilus,  originally  Bishop  of  Boaea    (probably  in  Thrace) ,  was 
deposed  for  his  Arianism.   In   370   he  was  elected   bishop   of   Con- 
stantinople by  the  Arian  party  and  was  supported  by  the  Emperor 
Valens,  who  banished  Evagrius.  In  380,  at  the  accession  of  Theodosius, 
he  was  asked  to  subscribe  to  the  Nicene  Creed  if  he  wished  to  maintain 
his  see.  He  refused,  and  along  with  Lucius  and  others  he  conducted 
Arian  worship  outside  the  walls  of  Constantinople  until  his  death  in 
386.  Cf.  Socrates,  H.  E.  4.37;  Ambrose,  De  fide  1.6.45. 


SYNODAL  LETTERS  217 

our  almighty  God  for  the  Empire  and  for  your  peace  and 
well-being,  because  through  you  peace  and  concord  have 
been  shed  upon  us. 

In  only  two  small  corners  of  the  West,  that  is,  on  the 
borders  of  southern  Dacia  and  in  Moesia,  did  there  appear  to 
be  murmurs  against  the  faith.  Now,  after  the  vote  of  the 
council,  we  feel  that  these  should  at  once  be  allowed  the 
indulgence  of  your  Clemency.  Throughout  all  territories  and 
districts  and  village  departments  as  far  as  the  ocean,  the 
communion  of  the  faithful  remains  one  and  unsullied.  And 
Arians  in  the  East  who  had  violently  laid  hold  of  churches 
have,  we  learn  with  great  joy  and  happiness,  been  ejected, 
and  the  sacred  temples  of  God  are  attended  by  Catholics 
alone. 

But,  since  the  envy  of  the  Devil  never  subsides,  word 
comes  to  our  ears  that  there  are  among  the  Catholics  them- 
selves frequent  dissensions  and  restless  discord.  All  our  feelings 
are  stirred  at  learning  that  many  new  [disturbances]  have 
taken  place,  and  that  persons  are  now  molested,  who  should 
have  been  relieved,  men  who  remained  always  in  communion 
with  us.  In  fact,  Timothy,3  Bishop  of  the  Church  at  Alex- 
andria, and  Paulinus  of  Antioch,4  who  always  maintained  an 
unbroken  concord  of  communion  with  us,  are  said  to  be 
distressed  by  the  dissensions  of  others,  whose  faith  was 

3  The  nature  of  the  difficulty  with  Timothy  is  uncertain.  Tillemont 
(op.  cit.  10.139)   says  the  question  probably  concerns  the  successor  to 
the  see  of  Antioch.  The  members  of  the  Council  of  Aquileia  who 
addressed  themselves  to  the  emperor  seem  not  to  have  heard  of  the 
outcome  of  the  recent  Council  of  Constantinople,  when  the  death  of 
Meletius  was  followed  by  the  consecration  of  the  presbyter  Flavian  and 
the  irregular  consecration  of  Maximus.  CL  Dudden,  op,  cit.  206-212. 

4  A  reference  to  the  long  schism  of  Antioch,  which  lasted  from   the 
deposition  of  Eustathius  by  the  Arians  in  331  until  415.  Cf.  Theodoret, 
H.  E.  3.2. 


218  SAINT  AMBROSE 

steadfast  in  former  times.  If  it  is  possible,  and  if  these  people 
are  recommended  by  the  fullness  of  their  faith,  we  should 
like  to  have  them  added  to  our  fellowship,  on  the  condition 
that  our  associates  in  the  ancient  communion  may  keep  their 
privilege.  Our  concern  for  them  is  not  unnecessary,  first, 
because  the  fellowship  of  communion  ought  to  be  without 
offense,  and  second,  because  we  have  long  received  letters 
from  both  parties,  and  especially  from  those  in  the  Church 
at  Antioch  who  were  heretics. 

Indeed,  if  hostile  interference  had  not  been  a  hindrance, 
we  should  have  arranged  to  send  some  of  our  own  number 
to  act  as  mediators  and  judges  in  restoring  peace,  if  possible. 
But,  since  our  desires  could  not  take  effect  at  that  time, 
because  of  the  troubles  of  the  state,  we  feel  that  we  should 
offer  your  Piety  our  prayers,  asking  that  by  mutual  agree- 
ment, when  a  bishop  dies,  the  rights  of  the  Church  should 
belong  to  the  survivor,  and  no  other  consecration  be  forcibly 
attempted.  Therefore,  we  request  you,  O  most  clement  and 
Christian  Princes,  to  permit  a  council  of  all  Catholic  bishops 
at  Alexandria,  where  they  may  more  fully  discuss  together 
and  decide  to  what  persons  communion  is  to  be  granted  and 
with  whom  it  is  to  be  maintained. 

Although  we  have  always  upheld  the  direction  and  order 
of  the  Church  at  Alexandria,  and  in  accord  with  the  manner 
and  custom  of  our  predecessors  have  maintained  communion 
with  it  in  indissoluble  fellowship  even  down  to  the  present 
time,  yet,  that  others  may  not  seem  less  esteemed,  who  have 
sought  our  communion  by  an  agreement  which  we  desire  to 
continue,  or  lest  we  neglect  a  short-cut  to  peace  and  fellow- 
ship with  the  faithful,  we  entreat  you  that,  when  they  have 
discussed  these  matters  in  a  full  assembly,  the  decrees  of  the 


SYNODAL  LETTERS  2 1 9 

bishops  may  be  furthered  by  the  help  of  your  Piety.  Allow 
us  to  be  notified,  that  our  minds  may  not  waver  in  uncer- 
tainty, but  that  joyously  and  peacefully  we  may  give  thanks 
before  almighty  God  for  your  Piety,  not  only  that  disbelief 
has  been  eliminated  but  faith  and  harmony  restored  to 
Catholics.  This  the  Churches  of  Africa  and  Gaul  beg  you 
through  their  legates,  that  you  may  make  the  bishops  of  the 
whole  world  your  debtors,  although  the  debt  already  due 
your  Virtue  is  by  no  means  slight. 

To  entreat  your  Clemency  and,  to  obtain  our  requests,  we 
have  sent  as  legates  our  brethren  and  fellow  priests  whom 
we  ask  you  to  condescend  to  hear  graciously  and  allow  to 
return  speedily. 


42.  To  the  most  blessed  Emperor  Theodosius,  most  dement 

prince,  Ambrose  and  the  other  bishops  of  Italy 

(Autumn,  381) 

We  are  aware  that  your  saintly  mind  has  been  dedicated 
to  the  service  of  almighty  God  with  unblemished  and  pure 
faith.  But  through  your  latest  good  offices  you  have  perfected 
your  dedication  by  bringing  back  to  the  churches  the  Cath- 
olics, O  Emperor  Augustus,  Would  that  you  had  brought 
back  the  Catholics  to  their  old  sense  of  reverence,  so  that 
they  would  make  no  changes  contrary  to  the  regulations 
of  their  predecessors,  neither  rashly  doing  away  with  customs 
that  should  be  preserved,  nor  preserving  what  should  be 
abolished.  More  grievously,  perhaps,  than  ill-advisedly  have 
we  lamented,  revered  Emperor,  the  fact  that  it  has  been 
easier  to  drive  out  the  heretics  than  to  establish  concord 


220  SAINT  AMBROSE 

among  the  Catholics.  It  is  impossible  to  explain  how  great 
confusion  has  recently  prevailed. 

Some  time  ago  we  wrote  to  you  regarding  the  city  of 
Antioch,  which  had  two  bishops,  Paulinus  and  Meletius,  who 
we  knew  were  in  agreement  on  faith.1  Therefore,  we  thought 
that  peace  and  concord  between  them  would  protect  the 
interests  of  Church  discipline,  or,  at  least,  that  if  either  of 
them  died  and  the  other  survived,  there  would  be  no  sub- 
stitution of  another  person  in  the  place  of  the  deceased. 
Now,  however,  upon  the  death  of  Meletius,  while  Paulinus 
is  still  living — a  man  who  has  remained  in  communion  with 
us  by  the  peaceful  rule  of  his  congregation  under  our 
predecessors — contrary  to  what  is  right,  and  contrary  to 
Church  discipline,  someone  is  being  planted  in  Meletius' 
place,  one  is  being  imposed  rather  than  installed. 

This  is  being  carried  out,  moreover,  with  the  consent  and 
agreement  of  Nectarius,2  whose  ordination  does  not  appear  to 
us  to  be  regular.  In  the  council  recently  held,3  Bishop 
Maximus4  revealed  by  letters  from  Peter,  of  holy  memory, 
that  the  members  of  the  Church  of  Alexandria  were  in 
communion  with  him,  and  he  proved  that  he  had  retired 
for  the  ceremony  of  his  ordination  to  his  own  home  because 

1  Two  rival  bishops  were  in  Antioch:  Euzoius,  installed  by  Constantius' 
orders,  and  Meletius,  legitimately  elected  by  his  colleagues.  But  a 
group  of  persons  openly  separated  from  these  two  and  put  themselves 
under  a  certain  Paulinus.  The  Council  of  Alexandria  had  decided 
regarding  the  doctrine  of  the  contending  parties  that  Paulinus'  and 
Meletius'  adherents  were  in  agreement,  although  the  former,  following 
the  terminology  of  Nicaea,  accepted  the  perfected  synonymity  of  ousia 
and  hypostdsis.  They  refused  to  recognize  or  accept  the  Meletian  for- 
mula, 'Three  hypostases  in  the  Trinity/  Cf.  Palanque  and  others,  op. 
cit.  305. 

2  Nectarius,  a  nobleman  of  Tarsus,  was,  like  Ambrose,  unbaptized  when 
he  was  elected  Bishop  of  Constantinople  in  381  at  the  resignation  of 
Gregory  Nazianzen. 

3  The  Council  of  Aquileia    (381) . 

4  Maximus  of  Alexandria  had  been  irregularly  consecrated  in  380  by 
some  Egyptian   bishops,  who  brought   the  authorization   of   the  con- 
secration from  Peter  of  Alexandria  during  the  illness  of  Gregory. 


SYNODAL  LETTERS  221 

the  Arians  still  had  possession  of  the  basilicas  of  the  church. 
We  had  no  occasion,  best  of  princes,  to  question  his  epis- 
copacy, since  he  proved  that  he  resisted  violence  brought  to 
bear  on  him  by  several  of  the  laity  and  the  clergy.5 

Nevertheless,  we  thought  that  your  Clemency  should  be 
informed  so  that  we  would  not  $eem  to  have  presumed  to 
pronounce  finally  upon  an  affair  when  the  parties  concerned 
were  not  present.  Consultation  should  be  held  for  the  sake 
of  public  peace  and  concord.  Actually,  we  have  observed 
that  Gregory  [when  he  abdicated  his  see],  in  accord  with  the 
tradition  of  the  Fathers,  laid  no  claim  to  the  office  of  priest 
of  the  Church  at  Constantinople.  In  the  synod,  therefore, 
whose  attendance  seemed  binding  upon  the  bishops  of  the 
whole  world,  we  agreed  to  decide  nothing  with  haste.  Yet, 
those  who  refused  to  attend  the  general  council  are  said  to 
have  met  at  the  same  time  at  Constantinople.  When  this 
assembly  learned  that  Maximus  had  come  to  their  synod  to 
plead  his  case  (although  the  council  had  not  been  lawfully 
proclaimed  in  the  manner  of  our  predecessors,  like  Athanasius, 
of  holy  memory,  and  like  Peter,  earlier — both  bishops  of  the 
Church  at  Alexandria — and  as  several  of  the  Eastern  bishops 
had  done  before,  appearing  to  have  recourse  to  the  judgment 
of  Rome,  of  Italy,  and  of  all  the  West),  when  they,  as  we 
said,  found  Maximus  wanting  to  make  trial  against  those 
who  had  refused  him  a  bishopric,  they  surely  should  have 
waited  for  our  opinion.  We  do  not  challenge  the  right  of  an 
examination  into  such  a  matter,  but  there  should  have  been 
a  meeting  for  a  united  decision. 

Finally,  there  should  have  been  an  agreement  as  to  whether 
it  seemed  necessary  to  recall  him  before  transferring  the 
office  of  priest  to  another.  The  procedure  was  important 
especially  to  those  by  whom  Maximus  claimed  he  had  been 

5  In  favoring  Maximus,  Ambrose  and  the  Western  bishops  were  not  in 
possession  of  the  full  facts  of  the  matter. 


222  SAINT  AMBROSE 

deserted  or  harmfully  attacked.  Since  our  assembly  had 
received  Bishop  Maximus  into  communion,  agreeing  that 
he  had  been  ordained  by  Catholic  bishops,  we  did  not  think 
that  he  should  be  removed  from  his  claim  to  the  bishopric  of 
Constantinople.  We  thought  that  his  claim  should  be  weighed 
by  the  parties  present.  However,  since  our  people  recently 
learned  that  Nectarius  was  ordained  at  Constantinople,  we 
do  not  see  how  we  can  unite  our  communion  with  the 
Eastern  countries,  especially  since  it  is  said  that  Nectarius 
left  there,  deprived  of  the  fellowship  of  communion  by  the 
same  persons  by  whom  he  had  been  ordained.6 

This  is  no  mean  difficulty.  The  trouble  causes  us  anguish 
not  out  of  any  personal  interest  and  ambition,  but  we  are 
disturbed  over  the  tearing  and  rending  asunder  of  the  union 
of  the  faithful.  We  do  not  see  how  agreement  can  be  reached 
unless  either  he  is  returned  to  Constantinople  who  was  first 
ordained,  or  there  is  at  least  a  joint  council  in  Rome  of  the 
East  and  West  regarding  the  ordination  of  the  two  persons 
in  question. 

It  does  not  seem  unfitting,  O  Augustus,  that  a  treatise 
be  drawn  up  by  the  head  of  the  Roman  Church  and  the 
neighboring  and  Italian  bishops,  who  thought  that  the  judg- 
ment of  the  one  bishop,  Acholius,  was  so  worth  waiting  for 
that  they  presumed  to  summon  him  to  Constantinople  from 
the  West.  If  protection  was  provided  for  this  one  man  alone, 
how  much  more  is  it  to  be  provided  for  many  persons? 

Yet,  having  been  advised  to  write  to  the  power  of  your 
Clemency  by  our  most  excellent  Prince,  the  brother  of  your 
Piety,7  we  ask  that  where  there  is  one  communion  you  may 
wish  a  judgment  in  common  and  agreement  in  perfect 
accord. 


6  This  was  a  false  rumor. 

7  Gratian. 


SYNODAL  LETTERS 

43.  To  the  blessed  Emperor  Theodosius,  most  clement  prince, 
Ambrose  and  the  other  bishops  of  Italy  (381) 

The  knowledge  of  your  faith,  spread  throughout  the  world, 
has  won  the  deep  affection  of  our  hearts.  And  now,  to 
enhance  even  more  the  glory  of  your  reign,  since  it  seems 
you  have  brought  back  unity  to  the  Churches  of  East  and 
West,  we  have  thought  that  your  Clemency  should  be 
petitioned  by  our  letters  and  instructed  also  regarding  the 
affairs  of  the  Church,  O  Emperor  most  serene  and  faithful! 
There  has  been  cause  for  sorrow  between  Eastern  and  West- 
ern people  because  the  sacred  communion  of  their  con- 
gregations has  been  interrupted. 

We  pass  over  in  silence  those  whose  error  and  sin  caused 
this,  that  we  may  not  appear  to  be  weaving  tales  and  idle 
talk.  We  are  not  sorry  to  have  tried  a  course  of  action  the 
neglect  of  which  might  have  been  cause  for  censure.  We  are 
often  blamed  for  seeming  not  to  value  highly  unison  with 
the  Eastern  brethren,  and  for  seeming  to  refuse  their  good 
will. 

As  a  matter  of  fact,  however,  we  have  thought  that  our 
endeavors  should  be  publicly  recognized  as  being  concerned 
not  for  Italy,  which  has  been  at  peace  for  a  long  time  and 
free  from  the  Arians,  and  is  not  disturbed  by  any  trouble 
with  any  other  heretics — not,  we  repeat,  for  ourselves*  We  do 
not  look  for  that  which  concerns  us,  but  that  which  concerns 
all,  not  for  the  interests  of  Gaul  and  Africa,  which  possess  a 
united  friendship  of  all  their  bishops,  but  we  are  anxious 
that  these  matters  which  pertain  to  the  East  and  have 
troubled  our  communion  may  be  discussed  before  a  synod 
and  every  difficulty  removed  from  our  midst. 

Some  matters  pertain  to  those  persons  of  whom  your 
Clemency  has  deigned  to  write;  others,  to  those  who  are 
trying  to  introduce  some  sort  of  dogma  into  the  Church, 


224  SAINT  AMBROSE 

said  to  be  the  teaching  of  Apollinaris;  and  these  items,  which 
should  have  been  cut  out  by  the  roots  while  both  parties  were 
present,  greatly  distress  us.  Then,  if  a  person  is  spreading  a 
new  dogma  and  is  found  guilty  of  error,  he  should  not  hide 
himself  under  the  general  name  of  the  faith,  but,  immediately, 
because  he  does  not  have  title  to  it  through  his  teaching 
authority,  he  should  lay  aside  his  priestly  office  and  title,  and 
no  materials  or  devices  for  treachery  should  remain  for  those 
who,  in  the  future,  wish  to  deceive  others.  If  one  is  not  found 
guilty  when  the  parties  are  present,  for  by  your  august  and 
princely  response  your  Clemency  has  defined  [the  limits  of 
discussion  for  us],  he  will  seize  upon  some  loophole  of  com- 
plaint which  will  have  to  be  reckoned  with. 

For  these  reasons,  therefore,  we  have  asked  for  a  council 
of  bishops  so  that  no  one  can  allege  falsehood  while  members 
are  absent,  and  that  whatever  is  true  may  be  discussed  in 
the  council.  Thus,  no  suspicion  of  intention  or  willingness 
falls  on  those  who  have  done  everything  in  the  presence  of 
all  parties. 

We  have  prepared  this  rescript  not  by  way  of  definition, 
but  of  instruction,  and  in  asking  for  a  judgment  we  do  not 
advance  a  pre-judgment.  Nor  must  any  disapproval  of 
those  parties  be  presumed  when  the  bishops,  whose  absence 
has  been  noted  frequently,  are  summoned  to  the  council, 
because  now  the  common  good  is  being  consulted.  We 
ourselves  have  never  thought  there  was  any  disapproval 
expressed  when  a  bishop  of  the  Church  at  Constantinople, 
one  Paulus  by  name,  called  for  a  synod  of  Eastern  and 
Western  bishops  in  Achaia. 

Your  Clemency  notices  that  this  is  not  an  unreasonable 
demand,  for  it  has  been  asked  for  by  the  Eastern  bishops. 
But,  because  there  is  a  disturbance  in  Illyricum,  safer  places 
have  been  sought  on  the  coast.  Plainly,  we  do  not,  as  it  were, 
start  something  out  of  the  ordinary,  but  we  are  keeping  the 


SYNODAL  LETTERS  225 

pattern  established  for  councils  by  Athanasius,  of  holy  memory, 
who  was  like  a  pillar  of  faith,  and  by  the  ancient  fathers  of 
times  past.  We  have  not  torn  up  boundary  stones  which  our 
Fathers  laid  down,  we  do  not  violate  the  laws  of  the 
communion  to  which  we  are  heirs,  but,  preserving  the  honor 
due  your  power,  we  merely  show  ourselves  zealous  for  peace 
and  repose. 


44.    To    our   lord,    dearly    beloved   Brother   Pope    Siricius, 
Ambrose,  Sabinus,  Bassianus,  and  others  (c.  389  )l 

In  the  letter  of  your  Holiness  we  recognize  the  vigilance 
of  the  good  shepherd,  for  you  carefully  keep  the  door  which 
has  been  entrusted  to  you,  and  with  holy  anxiety  you  guard 
the  sheepfold  of  Christ,  worthy  to  have  the  Lord's  sheep  hear 
and  follow  you.  Since  you  know  so  well  the  sheep  of  Christ, 
you  will  readily  catch  the  wolves  and  meet  them  like  a  wary 
shepherd  that  they  may  not  scatter  the  Lord's  flock  by 
their  habitual  unbelief  and  mournful  barking. 

This  we  praise  and  heartily  commend,  our  Lord  and 
dearly  beloved  Brother.  We  are  not  surprised  that  the  Lord's 
flock  was  frightened  by  the  raving  of  wolves  in  whom  they 
did  not  recognize  the  voice  of  Christ.  For  it  is  brutish  barking 
to  show  no  favor  for  virginity  or  claim  for  chastity,  to  wish 
to  group  all  deeds  indiscriminately,  to  abolish  the  different 
degrees  of  merit,  and  to  intimate  a  certain  poverty  in  heavenly 
rewards,  as  if  Christ  had  but  one  palm  to  give,  as  if  countless 
claims  to  reward  did  not  exist  in  great  numbers. 

They  pretend  that  they  are  giving  honor  to  marriage. 
What  praise  is  possible  to  marriage  if  virginity  receives  no 
distinction?  We  do  not  say  that  marriage  was  not  sanctified 

1  Written   at   the  Synod  of   Milan   as   a   defense   of  virginity   against 
Jovinian. 


226  SAINT  AMBROSE 

by  Christ,  since  the  Word  of  God  says:  The  two  shall 
become  one  flesh'2  and  one  spirit.  But  we  are  bora  before 
we  are  brought  to  our  final  goal,  and  the  mystery  of  God's 
operation  is  more  excellent  than  the  remedy  for  human 
weakness.  Quite  rightly  is  a  good  wife  praised,  but  a  pious 
virgin  is  more  rightly  preferred,  for  the  Apostle  says:  cHe 
who  gives  his  daughter  in  marriage  does  well,  and  he  who 
does  not  give  her  does  better.  The  one  thinks  about  the 
things  of  God,  the  other  about  the  things  of  the  world.'3 
The  one  is  bound  by  marriage  bonds,  the  other  is  free  from 
bonds;  one  is  under  the  law,  the  other  under  grace.  Marriage 
is  good:  through  it  the  means  of  human  continuity  are 
found.  But  virginity  is  better:  through  it  are  attained  the 
inheritance  of  a  heavenly  kingdom  and  a  continuity  of 
heavenly  rewards.  Through  a  woman  distress  entered  the 
world;  through  a  virgin  salvation  came  upon  it.  Lastly, 
Christ  chose  for  Himself  the  special  privilege  of  virginity  and 
set  forth  the  benefit  of  chastity,  manifesting  in  Himself  what 
He  had  chosen  in  His  mother. 

How  great  is  the  madness  of  their  mournful  barking  when 
the  same  persons  say  that  Christ  could  not  have  been  born 
of  a  virgin  and  also  assert  that  virgins  remain  among 
womankind  which  has  given  birth  to  human  offspring !  Does 
Christ  grant  to  others  what  they  say  He  cannot  grant  to 
Himself?  Although  He  took  a  body,  although  He  became 
man  to  redeem  man  and  recall  him  from  death,  still,  being 
God,  He  came  to  earth  in  an  unusual  way  so  that,  as  He 
had  said:  'Behold  I  make  all  things  new,'4  He  might  thus 
be  born  from  the  womb  of  an  immaculate  virgin,  and  be 
believed  to  be,  as  it  is  written:  'God  with  us.'5  Those  on 

2  Matt.   19.5. 

3  1   Cor.   7.38. 

4  Isa.   43.19. 

5  Matt.  1.23. 


SYNODAL  LETTERS  227 

the  path  of  evil  are  known  to  say :  cShe  conceived  as  a  virgin 
but  she  did  not  bring  forth  as  a  virgin.'  How  could  she 
conceive  as  a  virgin  but  be  unable  to  bring  forth  as  a  virgin? 
Conception  always  precedes;  bringing  forth  follows. 

If  they  do  not  believe  the  teaching  of  the  clergy,  let 
them  believe  the  words  of  Christ.  Let  them  believe  the 
instruction  of  the  angels  saying:  Tor  nothing  will  be  im- 
possible with  God.'6  Let  them  believe  the  creed  of  the  Apostles 
which  the  Church  of  Rome  keeps  and  guards  in  its  entirety. 
Mary  heard  the  words  of  the  angel,  and  she  who  had  said 
before:  'How  shall  this  be?'  not  questioning  faith  in  the 
generation,  later  replied :  'Behold  the  handmaid  of  the  Lord ; 
be  it  done  to  me  according  to  thy  word/7  This  is  the  virgin 
who  conceived  in  the  womb,  the  virgin  who  brought  forth 
a  son.  Thus  Scripture  says:  'Behold  a  virgin  shall  conceive 
and  bear  a  son,'8  and  it  declares  not  only  that  a  virgin  shall 
conceive,  but  also  that  a  virgin  shall  bring  forth. 

What  is  that  gate  of  the  sanctuary,  that  outer  gate  facing 
the  East  and  remaining  closed:  cAnd  no  man,'  it  says,  'shall 
pass  through  it  except  the  God  of  Israel5?9  Is  not  Mary  the 
gate  through  whom  the  Redeemer  entered  this  world?  This 
is  the  gate  of  justice,  as  He  Himself  said:  'Permit  us  to 
fulfill  all  justice.'10  Holy  Mary  is  the  gate  of  which  it  is 
written:  'The  Lord  will  pass  through  it,  and  it  will  be  shut,'11 
after  birth,  for  as  a  virgin  she  conceived  and  gave  birth. 

Why  is  it  hard  to  believe  that  Mary  gave  birth  in  a  way 
contrary  to  the  law  of  natural  birth  and  remained  a  virgin, 
when  contrary  to  the  law  of  nature  the  sea  looked  at  Him 
and  fled,  and  the  waters  of  the  Jordan  returned  to  their 

6  Luke  1.37. 

7  Luke  34.7,38. 

8  Isa.  7.14. 

9  Ezech.  44.20. 

10  Matt.    3.15. 

11  Ezech.  44.20. 


228  SAINT  AMBROSE 

source.12  It  is  not  past  belief  that  a  virgin  gave  birth  when 
we  read  that  a  rock  issued  water,13  and  the  waves  of  the  sea 
were  made  solid  as  a  wall.14  It  is  not  past  belief  that  a  man 
came  from  a  virgin  when  a  rock  bubbled  forth  a  flowing 
stream,15  iron  floated  on  water,16  a  man  walked  upon  the 
waters.17  If  the  waters  bore  a  man,  could  not  a  virgin  give 
birth  to  a  man?  What  man?  Him  of  whom  we  read:  'The 
Lord  will  send  them  a  man,  who  will  save  them,  and  the 
Lord  will  be  known  in  Egypt.'18  In  the  Old  Testament  a 
Hebrew  virgin  led  an  army  through  the  sea;19  in  the  New 
Testament  a  king's  daughter  was  chosen  to  be  the  heavenly 
entrance  to  salvation. 

What  more?  Let  us  add  further  praises  of  widowhood, 
since,  after  relating  the  miraculous  birth  from  a  virgin,  the 
Gospel  has  the  story  of  the  widow  Anna,  'who  lived  with 
her  husband  seven  years  from  her  maidenhood,  and  by 
herself  as  a  widow  to  eighty-four  years.  She  never  left  the 
temple,  with  fasting  and  prayers  worshiping  day  and 
night.'20 

Quite  rightly  do  some  persons  look  with  contempt  upon 
widowhood,  which  observes  fasts,  while  they  deplore  the 
fact  that  at  some  time  or  other  they  were  mortified  by  fasts; 
they  take  revenge  for  the  injury  they  did  themselves,  being 
anxious  through  constant  feasts  and  habits  of  luxury  to  keep 
away  the  pain  of  abstinence.  They  do  nothing  more  than 
condemn  themselves  out  of  their  own  mouth. 

Such  persons  even  fear  that  their  former  fasting  will  be 

12  Cf.  PS.  113.3. 

13  Cf.  Exod.  17.6. 

14  Cf.  Exod.  14.22. 

15  Cf.  Num.  20.11. 

16  Cf.  4  Kings  6.6. 

17  Cf.  Matt.  14.26. 

18  Isa.  19.20. 

19  Cf.  Exod.  14.21. 

20  Luke  2.36,37. 


SYNODAL  LETTERS  229 

charged  to  them.  Let  them  have  their  choice.  If  they  have 
ever  fasted,  let  them  suffer  the  hardship  of  their  good  deed; 
if  never,  let  them  admit  their  intemperance  and  wantonness. 
So  they  say  that  Paul  was  a  teacher  of  wantonness.  Pray, 
who  will  be  a  teacher  of  sobriety  if  he  taught  wantonness, 
for  he  chastized  his  body  and  brought  it  to  subjection21  and 
by  many  fasts  said  that  he  had  rendered  the  worship  which  is 
due  to  Christ.  He  did  so  not  to  praise  himself  and  his  deeds, 
but  to  teach  us  what  example  we  must  follow.  Did  he  give 
us  instruction  in  wantonness  when  he  said:  'Why,  as  if  still 
living  do  you  lay  down  the  rules:  "Do  not  touch;  nor  handle; 
nor  taste!"  things  that  must  all  perish  in  their  use5?22  And 
he  also  said  that  we  must  live  'Not  in  indulgence  of  the  body, 
not  in  any  honor  to  the  satisfying  and  love  of  the  flesh,  not 
in  the  lusts  of  error;  but  in  the  Spirit  by  whom  we  are 
renewed.'23 

If  the  Apostle  said  too  little,  let  them  hear  the  Prophet 
saying:  CI  afflicted  my  soul  with  fasting.'24  He  who  does  not 
fast  is  uncovered  and  naked  and  exposed  to  wounds.  Finally, 
if  Adam  had  covered  himself  with  fasting  he  would  not 
have  become  naked.25  Nineve  freed  herself  from  death  by 
fasting.26  The  Lord  Himself  said:  'But  this  kind  of  demon 
will  be  cast  out  only  by  prayer  and  fasting.'27 

Why  should  we  say  more  to  [you]  our  master  and  teacher, 
since  those  very  persons  have  paid  a  price  befitting  their 
disloyalty,  having  even  come  here  so  that  there  might  be  no 
place  where  they  were  not  condemned.  And  they  proved 
that  they  were  Manichaeans  in  truth  by  not  believing  that 

21  Cf.  1  Cor.  9.27. 

22  Col.  2.20-22. 

23  Cf.  Tit.  3.3-5. 

24  Ps.  68.11. 

25  Cf.  Gen.  3.7. 

26  Cf.  Jonas   3.5. 

27  Matt.  17.20. 


230  SAINT  AMBROSE 

He  came  forth  from  a  virgin.  What  madness,  pray  tell,  is 
this,  equal  almost  to  that  of  the  present-day  Jews?  If  they 
do  not  believe  that  He  came,  neither  do  they  believe  that  He 
took  a  body.  Thus,  He  was  seen  only  in  imagination,  in 
imagination  He  was  crucified.  But  He  was  crucified  for  us 
in  truth;  in  truth  He  is  our  Redeemer. 

A  Manichaean  is  one  who  denies  the  truth,  who  denies 
Christ's  Incarnation.  To  such  there  is  no  remission  of  sins. 
It  is  the  impiety  of  the  Manichaeans  which  the  most  clement 
emperor  has  abominated  and  all  who  have  met  them  run 
from  them  as  from  a  plague.  Witnesses  of  this  are  our 
brethren  and  fellow  priests,  Crescens,  Leopardus,  and  Alex- 
ander, men  imbued  with  the  Holy  Spirit,  men  who  brought 
upon  them  the  condemnation  of  all  and  drove  them  as 
fugitives  from  the  city  of  Milan. 

Therefore,  may  your  Holiness  know  that  those  whom  you 
condemned — Jovinian,  Auxentius,  Germinator,  Felix,  Plo- 
tinus,  Genial,  Martian,  Januarius,  and  Ingeniosus — have  also 
been  condemned  by  us  in  accord  with  your  judgment. 

May  our  almighty  God  keep  you  safe  and  prosperous, 
O  Lord,  dearly  beloved  Brother. 

Signed : 

I,  Eventius,  Bishop,  greet  your  Holiness  in  the  Lord  and 
sign  this  letter. 

Maximus,  Bishop 

Felix,  Bishop 

Theodorus,  Bishop 

Constantius,  Bishop 

By  order  of  my  lord  Geminianus,  Bishop,  in  his  presence, 
I,  Aper,  Presbyter,  sign. 

Eustasius,  Bishop,  and  all  the  Orders  sign. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS 


45.  Ambrose  to  Horontianus1  (c.  387) 

SHE  PROPHETS  foretold  the  gathering  of  the  Gentiles 
and  the  future  rearing  of  the  Church,  yet  in  the 
Church  there  is  not  only  the  continual  progress  of 
courageous  souls,  but  also  the  failure  of  the  weak  and  their 
conversion  anew.  Therefore,  we  can  conclude  from  the 
prophetic  books  that  the  fair  and  strong  soul  proceeds  without 
stumbling,  but  the  weak  one  falls  and  recovers  from  her  falls 
and  amends  her  way. 

As  we  read  in  the  Canticle  of  Canticles  of  the  continual 
progress  of  the  blessed  soul,  so  let  us  consider  in  Micheas 
the  conversion  of  the  fallen  soul  of  which  we  began  to  speak. 
Not  without  good  reason  have  the  Prophet's  words,  'And 
thou,  Bethlehem,  house  of  Ephrata/2  disturbed  you.  How 
can  Christ's  birthplace  be  a  house  of  wrath?  Though  the 
name  of  the  place  expresses  this,  certain  mysterious  operations 
are  being  illustrated. 

1  For  the  letters  to  Horontianus,  a  priest  of  Milan,  probably  Syrian  in 
origin,  and  those  to  Irenaeus,  a  layman,  the  sequence  given   by  J. 
Palanque,  'Deux   correspondents  de   S.   Ambroise/  Revue   des  etudes 
latines  II    (1933)    152-163  has  been  followed.  He  groups  all  the  letters 
to  Horontianus  around   the  year   387. 

2  Mich.  5.2. 

231 


232  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Let  us  first  consider  what  meaning  Micheas  has  in  Latin. 
It  means  'Who  is  from  God,'  or,  as  we  find  elsewhere :  'Who 
is  he,  the  son  of  the  Morasthite,'3  in  other  words  [son  of] 
the  heir.4  Who  is  the  heir  but  the  Son  of  God  who  says: 
'All  things  have  been  delivered  to  me  by  my  Father/5  who, 
being  the  heir,  wished  us  to  be  co-heirs?  It  is  well  [to  ask] : 
'Who  is  he?'  for  He  is  not  one  of  the  people,  but  one  chosen 
to  receive  the  grace  of  God,  in  whom  speaks  the  Holy 
Spirit,  who  began  to  prophesy  in  the  days  of  Joathan,  Achaz, 
and  Ezekias,  kings  of  Juda.'6  By  this  order  is  signified  the 
progress  of  the  vision,  for  it  goes  from  the  times  of  evil  kings 
to  those  of  the  good  king. 

Since  the  afflicted  soul  was  first  oppressed  under  evil  kings, 
it  seems  best  to  consider  what  progress  in  conversion  she 
experienced.  In  her  weakness  she  was  overthrown,  and  all 
her  fences  became  a  path  for  passers-by  and  for  the  inroads 
of  passion.  Spent  with  luxury  and  pleasure,  she  was  trodden 
down  and  banished  from  the  presence  of  the  Lord:  'Her 
tower  was  decayed,'7  that  tower  which,  as  we  read  in  the 
song  of  Isaias,  was  placed  in  the  midst  of  a  choice  vineyard.8 
For  the  tower  is  desolate  when  the  vine  withers  and  her 
flock  wanders,  but  when  the  verdure  of  the  vine  returns  or 
the  sheep  come  back,  it  grows  bright,  for  nothing  is  more 
desolate  than  iniquity,  nothing  more  bright  than  justice. 

To  this  tower  the  sheep  is  recalled  when  the  soul  is  recalled 
from  her  downfall,  and  in  that  sheep  returns  the  reign  of 
Christ  which  is  the  beginning,  for  He  is  the  beginning  and 
the  end,  and  the  beginning  of  salvation.9  The  soul  is  first 


3  Mich.   1.1. 


4  Ambrose    here   agrees    with    the    interpretation   of   Jerome     (Pro.    in 
Mich.,  PL  25.1151-1154)    that   Micheas  means  humilis,  and   Morasthi 


means  coheres. 

5  Matt.  11.27. 

6  Mich.  1.1. 

7  Mich.   4.8. 

8  Cf.  Isa.  5.2. 

9  Cf.  Apoc.  1.8. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  233 

rebuked  for  having  grievously  transgressed,  and  she  is  asked: 
cWhy  hast  thou  known  evil?  Hast  thou  no  king  in  thee?510 
In  other  words,  you  had  a  king  to  rule  and  guard  you;  you 
should  not  have  strayed  from  the  path  of  justice,  or  left  the 
ways  of  the  Lord,  for  He  imparted  to  you  sense  and  reason. 
Where  were  your  thoughts  and  counsels  with  which  you 
could  have  by  your  own  power  guarded  against  unrighteous- 
ness and  warded  off  iniquity?  'Why  have  your  sorrows 
overwhelmed  you  like  a  woman  that  is  in  labor,511  that  you 
might  bring  forth  iniquity  and  conceive  injustice?  There  is 
no  greater  sorrow  than  to  have  a  man  wound  his  conscience 
with  the  sword  of  sin;  there  is  no  heavier  burden  than  the 
load  of  sin  and  the  weight  of  transgression.  It  bows  down 
the  soul,  it  bends  it  to  the  ground,  so  that  it  cannot  raise 
itself.  Heavy,  my  son,  exceedingly  heavy  are  the  burdens  of 
sin.  Thus  that  woman  in  the  Gospel  who  had  been  bent 
over,  giving  the  semblance  of  a  heavily  laden  soul,  could  be 
raised  up  only  by  Christ.12 

To  such  a  soul  it  is  said:  'Act  manfully,  and  approach, 
O  daughter  of  Sion,  that  you  may  bring  forth,'13  for  the 
pains  of  childbirth  work  tribulation,  and  tribulation  en- 
durance, and  endurance  tried  virtue,  and  tried  virtue  hope. 
And  hope  does  not  disappoint  forever.'14  At  one  and  the 
same  time  all  that  is  opposed  to  virtue  is  plucked  up  and 
cast  forth,  lest  the  seeds  remain  behind  and  revive,  budding 
forth  again  into  new  fruits. 

Not  without  reason  was  she  given  horns  and  hoofs,  to 
bruise  all  the  sheaves  of  the  threshing  floor,  like  the  calf  of 
Libanus,15  for,  unless  the  sheaves  are  bruised  and  the  straw 
winnowed,  the  corn  within  cannot  appear  and  be  separated. 

10  Mich.  4.9. 

11  Ibid. 

12  Cf.  Luke  13.11. 

13  Mich.  4.10. 

14  Rom.  5.3,4. 

15  Cf.  Mich.  4.13. 


234  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Let  the  soul  that  would  advance  in  virtue  first  bruise  and 
thresh  out  its  superfluous  passions  that  at  the  harvest  it  may 
have  its  fruits  to  show.  How  many  weeds  choke  the  good 
seed!  These  first  must  be  rooted  out^so  that  they  will  not 
destroy  the  fruitful  crop  of  the  soul. 

The  careful  guardian  of  the  soul  then  sees  how  he  may 
restrain  her  in  her  pleasures,  and  cut  off  her  desires,  to 
prevent  her  being  overwhelmed  with  delight  in  them.  The 
correction  of  the  father  who  does  not  spare  the  rod  is  useful, 
that  he  may  render  his  son's  soul  obedient  to  the  precepts  of 
salvation.16  He  punishes  with  a  rod,  as  we  read:  CI  shall 
punish  their  offenses  with  a  rod.'17  Therefore,  one  who  with 
a  rod  strikes  an  Israelite's  soul  on  the  cheek  instructs  her 
by  the  Lord's  punishment  in  the  discipline  of  patience.  No 
one  who  is  chastened  and  corrected  need  lose  hope,  for  one 
who  loves  his  son  chastises  him.18  No  one  should  despair  of 
a  remedy. 

Lo!  where  you  had  the  house  'of  one  seeing  wrath/19 
there  is  the  house  of  bread;20  in  the  place  of  cruelty,  there 
is  now  piety;  where  there  was  the  slaughter  of  the  Innocents, 
there  is  the  redemption  of  all,  as  it  is  written:  'And  thou, 
Bethlehem  Ephrata,  art  not  the  least  among  the  princes  of 
Juda:  out  of  thee  shall  he  come  forth  the  ruler  in  Israel.321 
Bethlehem  is  the  house  of  bread,  Ephrata  the  house  of  one 
seeing  wrath,  for  this  is  the  meaning  of  those  names.  In 
Bethlehem  Christ  was  born  of  Mary,  but  Bethlehem  is  the 
same  as  Ephrata.22  Christ,  therefore,  was  born  in  the  house 
of  wrath,  yet  it  is  no  longer  a  house  of  wrath,  but  a  house 
of  bread,  because  it  has  received  Him,  the  Bread  which 

16  Cf.  Prov.  13.24. 

17  Ps.  88.35. 

18  Cf.   Eccli.  30.1. 

19  Ephrata. 

20  Bethlehem. 

21  Mich.  5.2. 

22  Cf.  Luke  2.6. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  235 

came  down  from  heaven.23  But  Ephrata  is  the  house  of  one 
seeing  wrath,  because  while  Herod  searched  there  for  Christ 
he  ordered  the  Innocents  slain;  therefore:  'A  voice  was 
heard  in  Rama,  Rachel  weeping  for  her  children.'24 

Let  no  one  be  afraid  now,  because  that  repose  which 
David  sought  has  been  heard  of  in  Ephrata,  and  it  has  been 
found  in  the  fields  of  the  woods.25  The  nations  met  in  the 
woods,  but,  after  they  believed  in  Christ,  it  became  fruitful, 
for  it  received  the  fruit  of  the  blessed  womb.26  And  Rachel 
died  in  childbirth  because,  even  then,  as  the  patriarch's 
wife,  she  saw  Herod's  wrath  which  spared  not  the  tenderest 
years.  Likewise,  in  Ephrata  she  gave  birth  to  that  Benjamin 
of  surpassing  beauty,  the  last  in  the  order  of  mystery,  namely, 
Paul,  who  caused  no  small  grief  to  his  mother  before  his 
birth,  for  he  persecuted  her  sons.  She  died  and  was  buried 
there,  that  we,  dying  and  being  buried  with  Christ,  may 
rise  in  the  Church.  Hence,  according  to  another  interpretation 
Ephrata  means  'enriched'  or  'filled  with  fruits.' 

Now,  here  in  the  book  of  the  Prophet  we  find  the  words : 
Thou  art  oligostos,3  that  is,  cthou  art  among  the  few,'  but 
in  Matthew:  £And  thou,  Bethlehem,  house  of  Juda,  are  not 
among  the  few.'  In  one  expression  is  'house  of  Juda,'  in  this, 
'house  of  Ephrata,'  and  a  difference  only  of  words,  not  of 
meaning,  for  inwardly  Judea  saw  the  wrath  and  outwardly 
she  suffered  it.  She  is  among  the  few,  for  there  are  who 
enter  the  house  of  bread  by  the  narrow  way.  But  she  who 
knows  not  Christ  is  not  among  the  few,  among  those  who 
make  progress.  Nor  is  she  the  least,  she  who  is  the  house  of 
benediction,  the  recipient  of  divine  grace.  Yet  in  this  she  is 
the  least,  that  what  one  offers  to  Christ  he  seems  to  offer  to 

23  Cf.  John  6.50. 

24  Matt.  2.18, 

25  Cf.  Ps.   131.3-6. 

26  Cf.  Luke  1.42. 


236  SAINT  AMBROSE 

her.  One  who  seeks  the  Church  seeks  Christ,  and  He  is 
either  despised  or  honored  in  every  least  one,  for  He  says 
Himself:  'What  you  have  done  to  the  least  of  these  my 
brethren,  you  did  for  me.'27 

That  Bethlehem  is  the  very  same  as  Ephrata  a  passage  in 
Genesis  makes  clear,  when  it  says :  'So  Rachel  died,  and  was 
buried  on  the  way  to  Ephrata,  that  is,  Bethlehem.528  The 
tomb  of  holy  Rachel  is  on  the  road,  for  she  is  a  type  of  the 
Church  so  that  passers-by  ^may  say:  'The  blessing  of  the  Lord 
be  upon  you  !'29  and  'Coming  they  shall  come  with  rejoicing.'30 

Thus,  every  soul  which  receives  the  bread  which  comes 
down  from  heaven  is  a  house  of  bread,  the  bread  of  Christ, 
being  nourished  and  having  its  heart  strengthened  by  the 
support  of  that  heavenly  bread  which  dwells  within  it.  Hence, 
Paul  says:  'We  are  all  one  bread.'31  Every  faithful  soul  is 
Bethlehem,  just  as  that  is  called  Jerusalem  which  has  the 
peace  and  tranquility  of  the  Jerusalem  on  high  which  is  in 
heaven.  That  is  the  true  bread  which,  after  it  was  broken 
into  bits,  has  fed  all  men. 

The  fifth  version32  has  'house  of  bread,'  because  Beth 
means  'a  house,*  and  'leem'  means  'bread.'  The  words  were 
omitted  from  the  other  versions,  I  imagine,  because  of  the 
unbelief  of  the  Jews  who  feared  to  convict  themselves,  or 
possibly  they  were  removed  by  others. 

We  learn  also  that  Bethlehem  is  of  the  tribe  of  Juda  from 
the  reading  in  the  Book  of  Judges  where  the  Levite  took  a 
concubine  from  Bethlehem  of  Juda,  and  the  concubine  was 
angry  with  him  and  returned  to  her  father's  house  in 
Bethlehem  of  Juda. 

27  Matt.  25.40. 

28  Gen.  55,19. 

29  Ps.  128.8. 

30  Ps.  126.6. 

31  1  Cor.  10.17. 

32  Ambrose  here  appears  to  be  using  a  copy  of  Origen's  Hexapla. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  237 

Christ's  going  forth  is  from  the  days  of  eternity,33  for 
eternity  commenced  for  us  when  He  went  forth  to  run  His 
course  and  gave  to  Israel  the  days  of  salvation.34  When  Christ 
comes  to  a  soul  there  is  fraitfulness  and  childbearing.  So 
she  came  to  the  Church,  she  who  brought  forth  more  than 
she  who  had  sons,35  bringing  forth  seven  who  are  law-abiding, 
tranquil,  peacemakers.  That  soul  begins  to  conceive  and 
Christ  is  formed  in  her  if  she  welcomes  His  arrival  and  feeds 
on  His  riches.  As  a  result,  she  has  no  needs,  and  other 
souls,  seeing  her,  return  to  the  path  of  salvation. 

'She  shall  have  peace,536  but  it  is  tried  only  by  temptations. 
Then  only  will  her  peace  and  tranquility  be  proved  when 
she  has  shut  out  or  repulsed  vain  thoughts,  when  she  has 
subdued  all  the  emotions  of  rising  passion,  when  distress, 
persecution,  hunger,  peril,  the  sword  beset  her.  'Then,'  it 
says,  "there  will  be  peace,'  because  in  the  midst  of  all  these 
we  overcome  through  Him  who  loved  us,  for  we  trust  in 
Him  that  neither  death  nor  the  power  of  temptations  shall 
tear  and  separate  us  from.  His  love.37  Then  He  will  send 
temptation  that  the  just  may  be  tried.  The  Lord  wills  to  send 
temptation,  not  to  beguile  anyone,  but  because  many  who  are 
weak  are  vanquished  by  temptation  and  those  who  are 
strong  are  tried. 

Then  will  come  the  dew  from  the  Lord,38  then  repose, 
then  will  the  soul  of  the  just  be  like  'the  young  lion  among 
the  flocks  of  sheep.339  I  have  no  doubt  that  on  the  model  of 
the  Gospel  this  refers  to  Christ,  for  He  Himself  said:  Then 
the  just  will  shine  forth  like  the  sun  in  the  kingdom  of 

33  Cf.  Mich.  5.2. 

34  Cf.  Ps.  18.6. 

35  Cf.  Isa.  54.1. 

36  Mich.  5.5. 

37  Cf.  Rom.  8.35. 

38  Cf.  Mich.  5.7. 

39  Mich.  5.8. 


238  SAINT  AMBROSE 

their  Father.'40  Then  shall  be  tamed  the  chariot  car,  that  Is, 
the  wild  coursing  and  the  motions  of  his  body;41  there  will 
be  an  end  of  'Conflicts  without  and  anxieties  within';42 
everywhere,  within  and  without,  there  shall  be  calm;  no  one 
shall  feel  repugnance  or  resist  this  good  will,  when  the 
intervening  wall  is  broken  down,  when  both  are  made  one,43 
for  the  obedience  of  the  flesh  will  end  all  discord. 

But,  if  a  weak  soul,  such  as  Israel  according  to  the  fleshy 
stumbles  and  Is  shaken  by  persecutions  and  separates  herself 
any  distance  at  all  from  the  charity  of  Christ,  she  Is  caught 
up  and  reproved  as  faithless,  as  ungrateful,  as  unbelieving, 
for,  after  being  freed  from  the  vanities  of  this  world,  she  has 
looked  back  and  suffered  a  relapse.  Yet,  she  was  not 
required  to  offer  gifts  or  sacrifice  bulls,  but  only  to  know 
the  good  and  to  act  justly:  'It  was  shown  thee,  O  man,' 
[he  says]  cwhat  is  good  and  what  the  Lord  requireth  of  thee. 
Only  do  judgment  and  justice,  love  mercy,  and  be  prepared 
to  walk  with  thy  Lord.544  But,  since  the  weak  soul  has  not 
kept  these  commands,  the  Lord  says:  4Woe  is  me,  for  I  am 
become  as  one  who  gathers  the  straw  at  harvest  time,  and 
like  a  grape  in  vintage  time.'  When  the  Prophet  hears  these 
words  by  which  God  has  spoken,  he  says  to  the  soul:  'Alas 
for  me,  O  soul,  that  the  man  full  of  fear  has  gone  from  the 
earth/45  These  are  as  the  words  of  the  Lord  pitying  the 
punishment  which  will  come  upon  sin,  and  weeping  over  our 
transgressions. 

Then  the  soul  who  hears  that  she  will  not  gather  the  fruit 
of  her  seeds,  and,  in  losing  the  harvest,  will  find  no  strength 
for  herself;  that  she  will  press  the  olive  but  will  not  find  the 
oil  of  gladness  or  drink  the  wine  of  pleasure;  finding,  also, 

40  Matt.  13.43. 

41  Cf.  Mich.  5.10. 

42  2  Cor.  7.5. 

43  Eph.  2.14. 

44  Mich.  6.8. 

45  Mich.  7.1,2. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  239 

that  the  deeds  of  the  flesh  are  full  of  blood,  full  of  deception, 
cheating,  and  fraud,  empty  sho\ts  of  affection  and  calculated 
guile,  and  all  those  of  her  own  house  her  enemies;  that  she 
must  guard  the  movements  of  her  companion  body,  for 
they  are  grievous  enemies  of  the  soul — is  converted  and 
begins  to  hope  in  God,  and,  knowing  that  the  flesh  is  truly 
her  enemy,  she  says  to  it:  'Rejoice  not  thou,  my  enemy, 
over  me,  because  I  have  fallen.  I  shall  arise.  When  I  sit  in 
darkness,  the  Lord  shall  enlighten  me.'46 

When  she  finds  that  some  power  mocks  her  to  prevent  her 
following  a  better  path,  and  tramples  her  to  deliver  her  to 
the  destruction  of  the  flesh,47  that  she  may  be  afflicted  with 
diverse  evils,  which  are  decreed  either  by  the  Lord  in  satis- 
faction for  her  sins  or  by  the  Evil  One  out  of  jealousy  at 
her  conversion,  to  afflict  and  call  her  back  to  himself,  she 
still  says:  'I  will  bear  the  wrath  of  the  Lord,'  for  either  He 
chastizes  me  in  my  fall  or  has  given  you  the  power  of 
afflicting  me,  'because  I  have  sinned,'  yet  I  will  bear  this, 
'until  he  justify  my  cause.'48  Unless  I  confess  and  pay  the 
price  of  my  iniquities,  I  cannot  be  justified.  But,  when  I  am 
justified  and  have  paid  double  for  my  sins,  'He  will  execute 
judgment  for  me,'  and  lay  aside  His  wrath  since  the  sentence 
against  me  is  satisfied.  'He  will  bring  me  forth  into  the  light 
that  I  may  see  his  justice'  and  behold  His  delight.  My 
enemy,  the  iniquity  of  the  Devil,  will  see  the  light  of  my 
reconciliation,  and  'shall  be  covered  with  shame,'  who  saith 
to  me:  'Where  is  the  Lord  thy  God?'49  He  will  see  in  me 
His  mercy,  he  will  see  His  love. 

Let  us  not  listen  to  him  when  we  are  in  the  troubles  of 
the  world,  whether  of  bodily  pain,  or  the  loss  of  children, 
or  of  other  necessities.  Let  us,  I  say,  not  listen  to  him  as  he 

46  Mich.  7.8. 

47  Cf.  1  Cor.  5.5. 

48  Mich.  7.9. 

49  Mich.  5.10. 


240  SAINT  AMBROSE 

says:  'Where  is  the  Lord  thy  God?5  When  we  suffer  severe 
pain  we  must  then  beware  of  his  temptations,  for  then  he  is 
trying  to  lead  astray  the  weary  soul. 

That  soul  which  has  not  heeded  his  snares,  seeing  later 
the  wonderful  works  of  God,  seeing  herself  in  heaven,  and 
the  Devil  creeping  like  a  snake  on  the  earth,  will  congratulate 
herself,  saying:  'Who  is  a  God  like  to  thee,  who  takest 
away  iniquity  and  passest  by  the  wickedness?'50  You  have 
not  been  mindful  of  Your  wrath,  but  have  cast  all  our 
iniquities  into  the  sea,  like  Egyptian  lead,  and  graciously 
have  restored  us  to  mercy  which  You  gave  with  twofold 
generosity,  forgiving  and  hiding  our  sins,  according  to  that 
which  has  been  written:  'Blessed  are  those  whose  iniquities 
are  forgiven,  and  whose  sins  are  covered!551  Some  sins  You 
have  washed  away  by  the  Blood  of  Your  Son,  others  You 
have  remitted  for  us,  that  by  doing  good  and  rendering 
praise  we  may  cover  up  our  mistakes.  The  expression, 
'pardoning  sins/  applies  to  their  forgiveness,  for  He  takes 
them  away  altogether,  and  what  He  remembers  not  are  as 
though  they  did  not  exist.  But  the  words  'passest  by  the 
wickedness'  mean  that,  by  confessing  our  failings  and  cover- 
ing them  with  good  deeds,  they  become  charged  to  the 
author  of  our  fault,  the  instigator  of  our  sin.  Does  he  not  do 
this  who  confesses  his  fault,  proving  that  he  was  beguiled 
by  the  malice  and  craft  of  that  spiritual  wickedness  opposing 
him? 

For  this  that  soul  gives  thanks,  that  the  Lord  pardons  sin, 
passes  over  and  plunges  iniquity  into  the  depths  of  the  sea. 
This  may  also  refer  to  baptism  in  which  the  Egyptian  is 
drowned,  and  the  Hebrew  rises  again,  wherein  by  the  depths 
of  wisdom  and  a  multitude  of  good  works  her  former  sins  are 

50  Mich.  7,18. 

51  Ps.  51.1. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  241 

covered  up  by  the  riches  of  the  mercy  of  our  God,  who  is 
mindful  of  the  promise  which  He  made  to  Abraham,  and 
allows  no  soul  which  is  an  heir  to  Abraham  to  perish. 

By  these  a  soul  is  called  back.  But  do  you,  my  son,  from 
the  first  flower  of  your  youth  an  heir  of  the  Church,  which 
bore  and  sustains  you,  persevere  in  your  purpose,  remember- 
ing God's  grace  and  His  gift  which  you  received  by  the 
imposition  of  my  hands.  Thus,  in  this  office,  too,  as  in  the 
sacred  ministry,  you  may  reveal  your  faith  and  diligence 
and  look  for  the  recompense  of  the  Lord  Jesus. 

Farewell,  and  love  us  as  a  son,  for  we  love  you. 


46.  Ambrose  to  Horontianus1 

In  my  last  letter  I  spoke  of  the  soul  which  journeys  through 
certain  devious  and  winding  roads,  wavering  as  did  Israel  of 
old  in  the  flesh.  But  Israel  herself  will  be  set  free  through 
the  grace  of  our  Lord  Jesus  Christ,  cwhen  the  full  number  of 
the  Gentiles  shall  enter,'2  for,  her  sin  being  lighter,  she  has 
renewed  herself  by  repentance.  Let  us  speak  in  this  letter 
of  the  daughter  of  the  Church  and  let  us  consider  how  the 
Lord  Jesus  first  took  her  under  His  care,  instructed  her,  and 
led  her  to  perfection  in  His  Gospel. 

Now,  it  was  when  she  lay  in  distress  that  He  first  took  her 
under  His  care — how  but  in  distress  can  the  soul  of  anyone 
live  an  exile  from  paradise?3 — and  He  brought  her  to 
Bethlehem.4  The  progress  of  that  soul  which  He  has  taken 
in  hand  is  signified  in  her  going  up  to  the  'house  of  bread' 
where  she  will  not  experience  dearth  or  sterility  of  faith.  I 

1  Undated. 

2  Rom.  11.25. 

3  Cf.  Gen.  3.25. 

4  Cf.  Matt,  2.1. 


242  SAINT  AMBROSE 

am  speaking  of  souls  in  general,  the  souls  by  which  we  live 
and  move,  and  not  of  any  soul  in  particular,  for  it  is  not  of 
the  individual  or  particular  soul  of  anyone,  but  of  souls  in 
general,  as  I  said,  that  I  intend  to  discourse. 

Christ  went  down  into  Egypt,5  assuming  the  protection 
and  guidance  of  our  soul,  and  then  He  returned  to  Judea. 
He  was  in  the  desert;6  He  was  in  Capharnaum;  He  was  near 
the  borders  of  Zabulon;  He  was  by  the  sea  coast;  He  passed 
through  cornfields;  He  was  in  Bethphage,  in  Ephraim,  in 
Bethany.  Then  He  went  into  the  garden  where  He  gave 
Himself  up;  He  suffered  on  Golgotha. 

These  are  all  steps  in  the  progress  of  our  soul  through 
which  by  practice  she  receives  the  grace  of  a  holy  life.  For, 
when  the  human  race,  in  the  person  of  Adam  and  Eve,  was 
excluded  from  paradise  and  banished  to  a  little  town,  she 
began  wandering  here  and  there,  tracing  her  misguided 
steps  without  any  delight.  But  in  His  own  good  time  the 
Lord  Jesus  emptied  Himself7  that  He  might  take  upon 
Himself  this  state  of  exile  and  bring  back  the  soul  to  her 
former  state  of  grace.  When  He  found  her,  and  she  had 
retraced  her  devious  course  of  error,  He  called  her  back  to 
paradise,  as  the  Gospel  reading  explains. 

He  led  her  through  the  cornfields  in  order  to  feed  one  who 
was  fasting;  next  into  the  desert,  then  into  Capharnaum,  a 
dwelling  in  the  country,  not  in  the  city.  Next,  He  brought 
her  to  the  borders  of  Zabulon,  near  the  floods  of  the  night, 
those  dark  riddles  of  the  Prophets,  so  that  she  might  learn 
to  find  her  way  to  the  land  of  the  Gentiles  where  all  men 
meet,  and  that  she  might  not  fear  the  storms  and  billows 
of  this  world.  Christ  owns  ships  from  Tharsis,8  mystical 

5  Cf.  Matt.  2.14. 

6  Cf.  Matt.  4.1. 

7  Cf.  Phil.  2.8. 

8  Cf.  3  Kings  10.22. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  243 

ships,  of  course,  which  traverse  the  sea  and  bring  pious 
offerings  for  the  construction  of  the  temple.  In  ships  like 
these  Christ  sets  sail,  and,  like  a  good  pilot,  rests  in  the 
stern  when  the  sea  is  calm.  But  when  it  is  disturbed  He 
awakes  and  rebukes  the  winds  that  He  may  flood  His  disciples 
with  peace.9  By  going  to  the  Gentiles,  too,  He  sets  free  the 
soul  which  was  held  fast  by  the  chains  of  the  Law,  so  that 
she  may  not  go  to  the  company  of  heathens. 

He  came  to  Bethany,  eto  the  place  of  obedience,'  where  a 
dead  man  is  raised  to  life,  for,  when  the  flesh  is  subdued  by 
the  soul,  human  nature  no  longer  lies  as  if  dead  in  its  tomb, 
but  is  raised  up  by  the  grace  of  Christ.  There,  too,  she 
learns  to  offer  to  suffer  in  the  name  of  God.10  As  John 
teaches,11  she  is  led  from  the  'place  of  obedience'  to  Eph- 
raim,  that  is,  to  the  richness  of  good  fruits.  From  there  she 
is  brought  to  Bethany,  that  is,  to  obedience,  for,  once  she 
has  tasted  the  fruit  of  holy  obedience,  she  is  never  unwilling 
to  preserve  it  and  to  be  called  into  its  service. 

When  at  last  she  was  found  pleasing,  she  came  to  Jeru- 
salem, being  worthy  to  be  made  into  the  temple  of  God  where 
Christ  dwelt.  Here  it  is  that  the  Lord  Jesus  sits  upon  the  foal 
of  an  ass  and  is  welcomed  with  the  joy  and  gladness  of  an 
age  that  does  no  harm.12 

Later,  the  words  of  eternal  life  are  explained  there  in  the 
garden  where  the  Lord  even  allowed  Himself  to  be  seized,  as 
John  the  Evangelist  writes,13  signifying  that  our  soul,  or  rather, 
human  nature,  after  the  bonds  of  error  are  loosed,  returns 
through  Christ  to  the  place  from  which  in  Adam  she  was 
expelled.  Therefore,  even  to  the  thief  who  confessed  his  guilt 

9  Cf.  Matt.  8.26. 

10  Cf.  John  11.17-44. 

11  Cf.  John  12.1. 

12  Cf.  John  12.14. 

13  Cf.  Tohn  18.8. 


244  SAINT  AMBROSE 

it  was  said:  'Amen  I  say  to  thee,  this  day  thou  shalt  be  with 
me  in  paradise.'  He  had  said:  'Remember  me  when  thou 
comest  into  thy  kingdom/14  In  answering  him,  Christ  did 
not  speak  of  His  kingdom,  yet  for  this  reason  [He  said]: 
'This  day  thou  shalt  be  with  me  in  paradise/  that  what  was 
lost  should  first  be  formed  anew,  and  then  must  be  increased. 
Thus  a  way  is  provided  through  paradise  to  the  kingdom, 
not  through  the  kingdom  to  paradise. 

It  is  reserved  for  the  disciples  to  receive  more  in  proportion 
to  their  labors,  That  is  why  He  only  promised  the  thief  a 
dwelling,  but  He  reserved  the  kingdom  for  a  later  time.  Let 
the  man  who  is  converted  at  the  stroke  of  death  and  confesses 
the  Lord  Jesus  merit  an  abode  in  paradise,  but  he  who 
disciplined  himself  long  before  and  has  been  a  soldier  for 
Christ,  won  souls,  and  offered  himself  for  Christ  should 
have  the  kingdom  of  God  for  his  wages  and  should  rejoice 
to  receive  the  full  reward  of  his  deeds.  So  it  is  said  to  Peter: 
'I  will  give  thee  the  keys  of  the  kingdom  of  heaven/15  Thus, 
the  one  converted  from  robbery  obtains  rest,  the  one  tried  in 
the  apostleship  receives  authority. 

This  is  the  soul  trained  by  the  Gospel,  the  soul  of  the 
Gentiles,  the  daughter  of  the  Church.  She  is  far  better  after 
her  journeying  than  the  soul  cast  out  of  Judea,  for  she  has 
mounted  up  to  the  Lord  Jesus  and  to  higher  things  by  her 
good  counsels  and  good  works,  and  Christ  has  acknowledged 
her  as  His  own  on  Golgotha.  There  was  the  burial  place  of 
Adam  so  that  there  through  His  cross  Christ  might  raise  the 
dead  to  life.  And  where  in  Adam  all  have  death,  there  in 
Christ  all  have  the  resurrection. 

Farewell,  son,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 

14  Luke  23.42,43. 

15  Matt.  16.19. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  245 

47.  Ambrose  to  Horontianus1 

Not  in  vain  have  you  decided  to  inquire  about  the  nature 
of  the  inheritance  of  a  divine  legacy  and  the  reason  why  it 
is  esteemed  of  such  value  that  many  even  offer  up  their 
death  for  its  sake.  But  if  you  realize  that  even  among  men 
the  advantage  of  inheriting  money  gives  an  additional  sanctity 
to  the  laws  of  filial  affection,  and  that  parents  are  given 
greater  respect  lest  the  slighted  love  of  a  father  may  wreak 
its  vengeance  by  disinheriting  or  repudiating  a  rebellious 
child,  you  will  cease  wondering  why  there  is  so  great  desire 
of  the  divine  inheritance. 

Now,  there  is  an  inheritance  offered  to  all  Christians,  as 
Isaias  says:  'This  is  the  inheritance  of  those  who  believe  in 
the  Lord,'2  and  it  is  hoped  for  by  promise,  not  by  the  Law. 
This  is  proved  by  the  parable  of  the  Old  Testament  in  the 
words  of  Sara:  'Cast  out  this  slave-girl  with  her  sop;  for 
the  son  of  this  slave-girl  shall  not  be  heir  with  my  son 
Isaac.'3  Sara's  son  was  Isaac,  the  slave-girl's  son  was  Ismael; 
since  they  antedated  the  Law,  the  promise  was  older  than 
the  Law.  We,  in  comparison  with  Isaac,  are  sons  by  promise; 
the  Jews,  in  comparison  with  the  flesh,  are  sons  of  the 
slave-girl.4  We  have  a  free  woman  as  our  mother,  she  who 
was  barren  and  later  begot  and  bore  a  son  of  promise.  Their 
mother  is  Agar,  she  who  brings  children  to  bondage.  Who- 
ever is  promised  grace  is  free;  whoever  is  given  the  yoke  of 
the  Law  is  enslaved.  Therefore,  the  promise  was  ours  before 
they  had  the  Law,  and  by  nature  freedom  is  more  ancient 
than  bondage.  Freedom  is  by  promise;  bondage,  by  the  Law. 
But,  although  the  promise  is  before  the  Law,  as  we  have  said, 

1  Undated. 

2  Isa.  54.17. 

3  Gen.  21.10. 

4  Cf.  Gal.  4.28. 


246  SAINT  AMBROSE 

and  freedom  is  the  promise,  love  is  in  freedom;  love  is 
according  to  the  Law  and  love  is  greater  than  freedom. 

Are  we  not,  then,  servants?  Why  is  it  written:  Traise  the 
Lord,  ye  servants'?5  Why  does  the  Apostle  say:  £But  as 
slaves  of  Christ,  doing  the  will  of  God  from  your  heart,  with 
good  will'?6  Truly,  this  service  is  free  and  willing,  of  which 
the  Apostle  says:  'A  freeman  who  has  been  called  is  a  slave 
of  Christ.'7  This  is  service  of  the  heart,  not  of  necessity.  Thus, 
we  are  the  servants  of  our  Creator,  but  we  enjoy  the  freedom 
which  we  have  received  through  the  grace  of  Christ,  being 
born  of  the  promise  by  faith.  And  as  those  born  of  a  free 
woman,  let  us  make  an  offering  of  our  freedom,  for  we  have 
been  signed  on  the  forehead  as  befits  the  free,  so  that  we 
will  not  be  confounded,  but  rejoice,  being  signed  in  the 
spirit,  not  in  the  flesh.  To  these  is  it  properly  said:  'Stand 
fast,  and  do  not  be  caught  again  under  the  yoke  of  slavery.'8 
He  did  not  say:  'Do  not  be  slaves,'  but  edo  not  be  caught  by 
the  yoke  of  slavery,'  for  the  yoke  of  slavery  is  heavier  than 
slavery. 

Isaac  also  says  to  his  son  Esau,  when  he  asks  his  blessing: 
"Behold,  without  the  fruitfulness  of  the  earth  shall  your 
dwelling  be;  without  the  dew  of  the  heavens  above.  By  your 
sword  shall  you  live,  you  shall  serve  your  brother.  But  there 
will  be  a  time  when  you  shall  take  and  shake  his  yoke  from 
your  neck.'9  How  does  his  being  a  slave  fit  in  with  his  casting 
from  his  neck  his  brother's  yoke,  unless  we  realize  the  differ- 
ence that  exists  in  slavery?  Let  Scripture  itself  explain  this 
difference  to  us :  Isaac  is  good,  and  he  is  good  to  us  who  are 
born  after  him  into  freedom;  he  is  a  good  father  to  both 
his  sons.  He  proved  that  he  loved  them  both  by  affection 

5  Ps.  134.1. 

6  Eph.  6.6. 

7  1  Cor.  7.22. 

8  Gal.  5.1. 

9  Gen.  27.39,40. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  247 

for  the  one,  by  a  blessing  for  the  other,  for  he  bade  the  older 
son  bring  him  food  and  receive  his  blessing,  but  while  he 
delayed  and  went  in  search  of  wild  game  from  afar,  the 
younger  brother  brought  him  a  kid  from  his  own  fold. 

The  good  food  of  all  is  Christ,  the  good  food  is  faith;  the 
sweet  food  is  mercy;  the  pleasing  food  is  grace,  foods  which 
the  people  of  holy  Church  feed  upon.  The  good  food  is 
the  Spirit  of  God;  the  good  food  is  the  remission  of  sins.  But 
very  hard  food  is  the  severity  of  the  Law,  the  fear  of  penalty; 
and  coarse  food  is  the  observance  of  the  letter  in  place  of 
the  grace  of  pardon.  Those  people  are  under  a  curse,  but  we 
in  blessing.  A  ready  food  is  faith:  'But  the  word  is  nigh  in 
thy  mouth  and  in  thy  heart.'10  The  food  of  the  Law  is 
slower,  for  while  they  awaited  the  Law  the  people  went 
astray. 

Therefore,  the  father  gave  his  blessing  to  his  alert  and 
faithful  son,  but,  being  a  good  father,  he  also  saved  his 
blessing  for  his  older  son  in  order  to  make  him  his  brother's 
servant.  This  he  did,  not  because  he  wished  to  debase  his 
family  to  slavery,  but  because  he  who  is  incapable  of  ruling 
and  governing  himself  must  be  a  slave  and  be  in  the  service 
of  one  more  wise,  so  that  he  will  be  guided  by  his  wisdom, 
and  not  fall  through  his  own  folly  or  stumble  through  his 
want  of  caution.  Such  a  state  of  slavery  is  given  instead  of  a 
blessing.  Moreover,  it  is  numbered  among  benefits,  along 
with  the  fatness  of  the  earth  and  the  dew  of  heaven  from 
above.  But,  having  said:  'By  your  sword  you  shall  live/11 
lest  he  be  harmed  by  confidence  arising  from  strength  or 
power,  he  added:  'You  shall  serve  your  brother,'  in  order 
that  you  may  obtain  the  rich  fruits  of  the  body,  and  the  dew 
of  divine  grace,  and  may  follow  him  who  will  guide  you  by 
his  leadership. 

10  Deut.  30.14. 

11  Gen.  27.40. 


248  SAINT  AMBROSE 

There  will  be  a  time  when  you  shall  shake  off  his  yoke 
from  your  neck  that  you  may  have  the  reward  of  a  willing 
slavery  and  not  undergo  the  evil  of  compulsory  bondage.  That 
slavery  is  dishonorable  which  is  compelled  by  necessity,  but 
that  is  honorable  which  is  offered  in  affection.  Hence  the 
Apostle's  words:  'If  I  do  this  willingly,  I  have  a  reward. 
But  if  unwillingly,  it  is  a  stewardship  that  has  been  entrusted 
to  me.'12  Surely,  it  is  better  to  merit  a  reward  then  to  serve 
as  a  steward.  Let  us,  then,  not  be  bound  by  the  yoke  of 
slavery,  but  let  us  serve  in  charity  of  spirit,  since  the  Apostle 
says:  'By  charity  of  spirit  serve  ye  one  another.'13  Fear  of  the 
Law  is  the  charity  of  the  Gospel.  'The  fear  of  the  Lord  is 
the  beginning  of  wisdom,  but  the  fulness  of  the  Law  is 
charity/14  Yet  the  Law  itself  says:  'But  the  whole  Law  is 
fulfilled  in  one  word,315  and  it  is  summed  up  in  this:  'Thou 
shalt  love  thy  neighbor.'16 

This,  then,  is  what  we  asserted,  for,  although  bondage  is  of 
the  Law,  freedom  is  in  accord  with  the  Law,  for  love  belongs 
to  freedom,  fear  to  bondage.  There  is,  therefore,  a  love  of 
the  Law  and  a  bondage  of  love;,  and  the  Law  is  the  fore- 
runner of  love,  and  the  love  of  the  Gospel  is  a  free  donation 
of  loving  service. 

The  Law,  then,  is  not  unneeded,  for  like  a  tutor  it  attends 
the  weak.17  I  mean  weakness  of  character,  not  of  body,  for 
there  are  children  who  do  not  know  how  to  utter  God's 
word,  who  do  not  receive  His  works,  for,  if  a  spotless  life  is 
old  age,18  surely  a  life  full  of  stains  is  the  time  of  youth. 
The  Law,  therefore,  was  a  tutor,  that  is,  nomos,  until  faith 
came,  'And,'  he  says,  like  weaklings  we  were  kept  imprisoned 

12  1  Cor.  9.17. 

13  Gal.  5.13. 

14  EcclL  1.16. 

15  Gal.  5.14. 

16  Rom.  13.9. 

17  Cf.  Gal.  3.24. 

18  Cf.  Wisd.  4.9. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  249 

by  the  Law,  shut  up  for  the  faith  that  was  to  be  revealed.'19 
Later  came  faith;  he  does  not  mean  the  Gospel,  but  faith,  for 
that  is  only  faith  which  is  the  Gospel,  for  in  it  the  justice  of 
God  is  revealed  which  is  from  faith  unto  faith,20  yet  this  of  the 
Law  is  faith  if  the  fullness  of  faith  reaches  it.  Rightly, 
therefore,  is  faith  spoken  of  as  a  single  thing,  for  that  [law] 
without  this  [faith]  is  not  faith,  it  is  confirmed  in  this  [faith]. 
When  faith  came,  there  arrived,  too,  the  fullness,  there  arrived 
the  adoption  of  sons,  weakness  departed,  childhood  left,  we 
rose  to  perfect  manhood,  we  put  on  Christ.  How  can  one  be 
weak  and  small  in  whom  is  Christ,  the  power  of  God?  Thus 
have  we  arrived  at  perfection  and  we  have  received  the 
teachings  of  perfection. 

Today  you  have  heard  the  reading:  'Of  myself  I  can  do 
nothing.  As  I  hear,  I  judge.'  You  have  also  heard:  CI  do  not 
accuse  you,  I  do  not  judge.'  I  do  not  accuse:  'Moses  accuses 
you,  in  whom  you  hope.'  And  you  have  heard:  £If  I  bear 
witness  concerning  myself,  my  witness  is  not  true.'21  I  have 
been  taught  what  sort  of  judge,  what  sort  of  witness  I  should 
be.  For  it  is  not  as  a  weakling  that  He  says:  'Of  myself  I 
can  do  nothing,'  but  one  who  hears  this  is  the  weakling. 
Indeed,  the  Son  does  nothing  without  the  Father,  because  in 
them  are  community  of  operation  and  unity  of  power.  Here 
He  speaks  like  a  judge,  so  that  we  may  know  in  judging  men 
that  we  must  form  our  opinion  equitably,  not  according  to 
our  own  will  and  power. 

Choose  some  criminal  who  has  been  charged  and  found 
guilty  of  a  crime,  one  who  does  not  persist  in  excuses,  but 
begs  pardon,  falling  at  the  knees  of  the  judge.  He  answers 
him:  6Of  myself  I  can  do  nothing;  justice,  not  power,  is  in 
the  pronouncement  of  judgment.  I  do  not  judge;  your  own 
deeds  judge  you.  They  charge  and  accuse  you.  The  laws 

19  Gal  3.23. 

20  Cf.  Rom.  1.17. 


250  SAINT  AMBROSE 

condemn  you;  I  as  judge  do  not  charge  but  only  guard 
them.  Of  myself  I  produce  nothing,  but  from  you  proceeds 
the  sentence  of  judgment  against  you.  As  I  hear,  I  judge, 
not  as  I  wish,  and  my  judgment  is  true  because  I  favor  not 
my  wish  but  fairness." 

Let  us  next  consider  the  divine  rule  of  judging.  The  Lord 
of  heaven  and  earth,  the  Judge  of  all,  says:  £Of  myself  I 
can  do  nothing.  As  I  hear,  I  judge,'  and  man  says  to  his 
Lord:  eDost  thou  not  know  that  I  have  power  to  release 
thee,  and  I  have  power  to  crucify  thee?'22  Why  is  the  Lord 
not  able?  'Because,5  He  says,  cmy  judgment  is  true,  because 
I  seek  not  my  own  will,  but  the  will  of  him  who  sent  me,'23 
that  is,  not  the  will  of  man  whom  you  see,  not  the  choice  of 
man  whom  you  judge  only  as  man,  not  the  will  of  the  flesh, 
for  the  spirit  is  willing,  but  the  flesh  is  weak,24  but  the  divine 
will  which  is  the  source  of  law  and  the  rule  of  judgment. 
Likewise  is  that  witness  true  who  bears  witness  not  of  himself, 
but  of  another,  for  it  is  written:  'Let  another  praise  thee, 
and  not  thy  own  mouth.'25 

In  a  mystical  sense  it  is  well  said  to  the  Jews:  *I  do  not 
judge  you,  I,  the  redemption  of  all,  I,  the  remission  of  sins, 
I  do  not  judge  you  because  you  have  not  received  me.  I  do 
not  judge;  I  freely  pardon.  I  do  not  judge;  I  redeem  sinners 
with  my  blood.  I  do  not  judge;  I  blot  out  iniquities  and  I 
will  not  remember.26  I  do  not  judge;  I  prefer  the  life  rather 
than  the  death  of  the  sinner.27  I  do  not  judge,  I  do  not 
condemn  you,  but  I  justify  those  who  confess.  Moses  accuses 
you ;  he  has  blamed  you,  in  whom  you  hope.  He  accuses  you, 
because  he  has  not  the  power  of  judging;  this  is  reserved  for 

21  John  5.30,45,31. 

22  John  19.10. 

23  John  5.30. 

24  Cf.  Matt.  26.41. 

25  Prov.  27.2. 

26  Cf.  Isa,  43.25. 

27  Cf.  Ezech.  18.23. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  251 

his  Maker.5  He,  then,  In  whom  you  trust  is  accusing  you, 
while  the  One  in  whom  you  willed  not  to  hope  has  forgiven 
you. 

O  great  folly  of  the  Jews!  Rightly  are  they  accused  of 
their  crimes,  for  they  have  chosen  an  accuser  and  refused  a 
good  judge;  pardon,  therefore,  is  not  for  them;  punishment 
surely  reaches  them. 

It  is  right  for  you,  my  son,  to  have  begun  with  the  Law 
and  to  have  been  confirmed  in  the  Gospel,  from  faith  to 
faith,  as  it  is  written:  'He  who  is  just  lives  by  faith.528 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 


48.  Ambrose  to  Horontianus1 

If  'Abraham  believed  the  Lord,  who  credited  the  act  to 
him  as  justice52  and  his  act  was  considered  just,  taking  him 
from  unbelief  to  faith,  surely  we  are  justified  by  faith,  not 
by  the  works  of  the  Law.  But  Abraham  had  two  sons,  Ismael 
and  Isaac,  one  of  a  slave-girl,  the  other  of  a  free  woman.3 
But  he  was  told  to  cast  out  the  slave-girl  and  her  son,  for 
the  son  of  the  slave-girl  would  not  be  his  heir.  We,  therefore, 
are  not  sons  of  the  slave-girl  but  of  the  free  woman  by  whose 
freedom  Christ  has  set  us  free.  Hence  it  follows  that  they 
are  sons  of  Abraham  who  are  so  by  faith,  for  heirs  of  faith 
surpass  heirs  by  birth.  The  Law  is  a  tutor;  faith  is  a  free 
woman.  Let  us,  then,  cast  out  the  works  of  bondage;  let  us 
keep  the  grace  of  freedom;  let  us  leave  the  shade,  following 
the  sun;  let  us  break  with  Jewish  rites. 

The  circumcision  of  one  member  is  of  no  avail,  for  the 

28  Rom.  1.17. 

1  Undated. 

2  Gen.  15.6. 

3  Cf.  Gal.  4.22. 


252  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Apostle  says:  'Behold,  I,  Paul,  tell  you  that  if  you  be  cir- 
cumcised, Christ  will  be  of  no  advantage  to  you/4  not  because 
He  is  powerless,  but  because  He  does  not  consider  those 
worthy  of  His  benefits  who  desert  His  paths. 

Sephora  of  old  circumcised  her  son  and  warded  off 
a  threatening  danger.5  Even  then  Christ  was  of  advantage, 
although  perfection  was  still  deferred.  While  the  group  of 
believers  was  small,  the  Lord  Jesus  came,  not  small,  but 
perfect  in  all  things.  He  was  circumcised  first  in  accordance 
with  the  Law  so  as  not  to  destroy  the  Law,  and  later  through 
the  Cross  in  order  to  fulfill  the  Law.6  That  which  is  only 
partial  has  ended,  because  that  which  is  perfect  has  come,  for 
in  Christ  the  Cross  circumcised  not  one  member  but  the 
useless  pleasures  of  the  whole  body. 

Perhaps  it  is  still  being  asked  why  one  who  had  come  to 
show  a  perfect  circumcision  wished  to  be  circumcised  partially. 
On  this  I  do  not  think  we  need  ponder  further,  for,  if  He 
became  sin  in  order  to  cleanse  our  sins,7  if  He  became  a 
curse  for  us  in  order  to  make  void  the  curse  of  the  Law/ 
for  this  reason  He  was  also  circumcised  for  us  in  order  to 
remove  the  circumcision  of  the  Law,  for  He  was  about  to 
give  us  the  salvation  of  the  Cross. 

In  the  spirit  we  must  wait  for  the  hope  of  justice  by  faith, 
as  the  Apostle  tells  us,  and  we  who  are  called  to  freedom 
must  not  use  our  liberty  as  an  occasion  for  sensuality.  Indeed, 
'neither  circumcision  is  of  any  avail,  nor  uncircumcision,  but 
faith  which  works  through  charity.'9  Therefore,  it  is  written: 
Thou  shalt  love  the  Lord  thy  God.'10  One  who  loves  surely 


4  Gal.  5.2. 

5  Cf.  Exod.  4.25. 

6  Cf.  1  Cor.  13.10. 

7  Cf.  2  Cor.  5.21. 

8  Cf  Gal.  3.13. 

9  Cf.  Gah  5.5,13,6. 
10  Deut,  6.5. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  253 

believes  and  in  believing  each  man  begins  to  love.  Abraham 
believed  and  so  began  to  love,  and  believed  not  in  part,  but 
entirely;  otherwise,  he  could  not  have  perfect  charity,  because 
it  has  been  written:  'Charity  believes  all  things.'11  Unless 
charity  believes  all  things  it  does  not  appear  perfect.  There- 
fore, perfect  charity  has  all  faith. 

Yet,  I  would  not  lightly  assert  that  all  faith  at  once  has 
perfect  charity,  for  the  Apostle  says:  'If  I  have  all  faith  so  as 
to  remove  mountains,  yet  do  not  have  charity,  I  am  noth- 
ing.'12 In  a  Christian  man  there  are  three  virtues  in  particular, 
hope,  faith,  and  charity,  but  the  greatest  of  these  is  charity.13 

I  suppose  the  Apostle  said  this  for  the  sake  of  his  argument, 
for  it  hardly  seems  possible  that  one  who  had  all  faith  so  as 
to  remove  mountains  would  not  have  charity,  or  how  if  he 
had  all  mysteries  and  all  knowledge  he  would  not  have 
charity,  especially  since  John  says:  'Everyone  who  believes 
that  Jesus  is  the  Christ  is  born  of  God,'14  and  he  has  said 
above:  'Whoever  is  born  of  God  does  not  commit  sin.*15 
Hence  it  is  understood  that  if  one  who  believes  that  Jesus  is 
the  Christ  is  born  of  God,  and  one  who  is  born  of  God  does 
not  sin,  then  surely  one  who  believes  that  Jesus  is  the  Christ 
does  not  sin.  If  a  man  sins,  he  does  not  believe;  one  who  does 
not  believe  does  not  love;  one  who  does  not  love  is  guilty 
of  sin.  Therefore,  he  does  not  love  who  sins,  for  charity 
covers  a  multitude  of  sins.16  But  charity  precludes  the  love  of 
sin  and,  since  it  also  casts  out  fear,  charity  surely  is  full  of 
perfect  faith. 

The  Apostles,  who  were  to  be  His  friends,  said  as  they 
asked  the  good  Physician  to  heal  their  weak  faith:  'Increase 

11  1  Cor.  13.7. 

12  1  Cor.  13.2. 

13  Cf.  1  Cor.  13.13. 

14  1  John  4.7. 

15  1  John  3.9. 

16  Cf.  1  Peter  4.8. 


254  SAINT  AMBROSE 

our  faith.'17  Their  faith  was  still  weak,  since  even  Peter 
heard:  CO  thou  of  little  faith,  why  didst  thou  doubt?'18  Thus 
does  faith  as  the  forerunner  of  charity  take  hold  of  the  soul 
and  prepare  the  way  for  love  that  is  to  come.  And  there  is  all 
faith  where  there  is  the  perfection  of  charity. 

I  believe  it  is  said  that  charity  believes  all  things,19  that 
is,  she  makes  faith  believe  all  things  and  such  a  soul  has  all 
faith.  Consequently,  where  charity  is  perfect  there  is  all  faith, 
and  where  charity  is  perfect  there  is  all  hope.  As  it  believes 
all  things  so  it  is  said  to  hope  all  things.  It  is  the  greater 
in  that  it  embraces  hope  and  faith. 

A  man  with  this  charity  fears  nothing,  for  charity  casts 
out  fear;  when  fear  is  banished  and  cast  out,  charity  endures 
all  things,  bears  all  things.  One  who  bears  all  things  through 
love  cannot  fear  martyrdom.  For  this  reason,  like  a  conqueror 
at  the  end  of  his  course,  he  [Paul]  says  elsewhere:  The 
world  is  crucified  to  me,  and  I  to  the  world.320 

Farewell,  son,  and  love  us,  for  we  love  you. 


49.  Ambrose  to  Horontianus  (c.  387) 

After  reading  the  Hexaemeron  which  I  wrote,  you  told  me 
that  you  were  disturbed  in  the  course  of  the  sacred  narrative 
and  in  my  discussion  of  it  because  more  was  bestowed  upon 
man  than  upon  any  living  creature  on  earth,  yet  the  earth  and 
water  produced  all  those  things  that  fly  or  are  on  land  or  in 
water  before  man  was  produced  for  whose  sake  everything 
was  made.  You  are  asking  me  the  reason  for  this:  Moses 
was  silent  on  this  point  and  I  dared  not  touch  on  it. 


17  Luke  17.5. 

18  Matt,  14.31. 

19  C*.  1  Cor.  13.7. 

20  Gal.  6.14. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  255 

That  spokesman  of  the  divine  decrees  perhaps  could  have 
been  purposely  silent  so  as  not  to  seem  to  set  himself  up  as 
the  judge  and  adviser  of  heaven's  plans.  It  is  one  thing  to 
utter  what  is  inspired  by  the  Spirit  of  God;  it  is  another  to 
interpret  God's  will  I  think  that  we,  speaking  not  as  inter- 
preters of  God,  but  gathering,  as  it  were,  the  seeds  of  reason 
from  human  usage,  can  give  an  opinion  as  to  why  it  was 
becoming  for  man  to  be  created  last.  For  we  have  the  example 
which  men  give  us  themselves  and  we  also  realize  that  God 
Himself  has  instilled  into  other  creatures  those  practices 
which  man  may  take  as  an  example  for  himself. 

One  who  sets  out  a  banquet,  as  did  the  rich  man  in  the 
Gospel  (for  we  must  compare  divine  things  with  divine  things 
the  better  to  be  able  to  gather  our  arguments),  prepares 
everything  beforehand,  kills  his  bulls  and  fatlings,  and  only 
then  invites  his  friends  to  dinner.  The  trifles  are  first  made 
ready,  then  the  honored  guest  is  summoned.  In  this  way,  too, 
the  Lord  first  prepared  for  man  the  food  of  all  animals, 
then  summoned  him  like  a  friend  to  His  banquet.  Truly  is 
that  man  a  friend,  a  partaker  of  divine  love,  an  heir  of  glory. 
To  man  himself  He  says:  'Friend,  how  didst  thou  come  in 
here  to  the  banquet?'1  Those  things  which  precede  are 
furnishings,  the  friend  is  the  one  who  is  asked  last. 

Take  another  example.  What  is  the  world  but  an  arena 
full  of  fighting?  Therefore  the  Lord  says  in  the  Apocalypse: 
'To  the  victor  I  shall  give  the  crown  of  life,'2  and  Paul  says: 
CI  have  fought  the  good  fight,'3  and  elsewhere:  cNo  one  is 
crowned  unless  he  has  competed  according  to  the  rules.'4  He 
who  initiated  this  contest  is  actually  Almighty  God.  When 
one  initiates  a  contest  in  this  world,  does  he  not  prepare  all 

1  Matt.  22.12. 

2  Apoc.  2.10. 

3  2  Tim.  4.7. 

4  2  Tim.  2.5. 


256  SAINT  AMBROSE 

that  is  necessary  for  the  contest,  and  only  after  he  has  made 
ready  the  wreaths  for  rewards  call  those  who  are  to  contend 
for  the  crown,  so  that  the  winner  may  not  meet  with  delay 
but  depart  after  being  given  his  reward?  The  rewards  of  man 
are  the  fruits  of  the  earth  and  the  lights  of  heaven.  The 
former  are  for  his  use  in  the  present  life;  the  latter,  for  his 
hope  of  life  eternal. 

Like  an  athlete,  then,  he  comes  last  into  the  arena;  he 
lifts  his  eyes  to  heaven;  he  sees  that  the  heavenly  creation 
was  made  subject  to  vanity  not  by  its  own  will,  but  by 
reason  of  Him  who  made  it  subject  in  hope.5  He  sees  that 
all  creation  groaned  awaiting  redemption.  He  sees  that  his 
whole  task  awaits  him.  He  lifts  his  eyes,  he  sees  the  crowns 
of  lights,  he  studies  the  spheres  of  moon  and  stars;  'But  the 
just  who  have  conquered  will  be  like  the  stars  in  heaven.'6 
He  chastises  his  body  so  that  it  will  not  defeat  him  in  the 
contest;  he  anoints  it  with  the  oil  of  mercy;  he  practices 
daily  exhibitions  of  virtue;  he  smears  himself  with  dust;  he 
runs  with  assurance  to  the  goal  of  the  course;  he  aims  his 
blows,  he  darts  his  arms,  but  not  at  empty  spaces;  he  strikes 
the  adversary  whom  he  does  not  see,  because  he  is  watching 
Him  alone  to  whom  all  give  way,  even  those  who  are  not  seen, 
at  whose  name  spiritual  powers  were  turned  aside.  It  is  he  who 
poises  the  blow,  it  is  Christ  who  strikes;  he  lifts  his  heel, 
Christ  directs  it  to  the  wound.  Lastly,  although  Paul  did 
not  see  those  whom  he  struck,  he  struck  not  as  at  the  air,7 
because  in  preaching  Christ  he  dealt  wounds  to  all  those 
spiritual  evils  which  were  His  enemies.  Not  undeservedly, 
then,  did  man  enter  the  stadium  last,  and  a  crown  was 
prepared  for  him  so  that  heaven  might  go  before  him  as 
being  his  reward, 

5  Cf.  Rom.  8.20. 

6  Dan.  12.3. 

7  Cf.  I  Cor.  9.26. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  257 

But  our  struggle  is  not  only  against  the  spirits  of  evil, 
which  are  in  heaven,  but  also  against  flesh  and  blood.8  We 
struggle  with  satiety,  we  struggle  with  the  fruits  of  the  earth, 
we  struggle  with  wine,  by  which  even  the  just  man  was  made 
drunk,9  by  which  the  whole  army  of  the  Jews  was  thrown 
back.  We  struggle  with  wild  beasts;  there  is  a  struggle  with 
the  birds  of  the  air,  for  our  flesh,  made  fat  with  these,  is 
not  put  in  our  service;  we  struggle  with  perils  of  journeying, 
with  perils  of  waters,  as  Paul  says;10  we  struggle  with  rods 
from  trees  by  which  the  Apostles  were  beaten.11  You  see 
what  great  fights  these  are.  Earth  is  man's  training  ground; 
heaven  his  crown.  Therefore,  as  courtesies  precede  the  friend, 
so  do  rewards  precede  the  athlete. 

Consider  another  example.  In  all  things  the  beginning  and 
the  end  are  the  most  important.  If  you  observe  a  house,  the 
foundation  and  roof  are  most  important;  if  it  be  a  field,  it 
is  the  sowing  and  harvest,  the  planting  and  the  vintage.  How 
pleasant  are  the  graftings  of  trees,  how  desirable  the  fruits! 
So,  too,  heaven  was  formed  first,  man  last,  as  being  a  heavenly 
creature  on  earth.  Although  he  is  compared  in  body  with 
the  beasts,  in  mind  he  is  counted  among  celestial  beings, 
for,  even  as  we  have  borne  the  likeness  of  the  earthly,  so  we 
bear  the  likeness  of  the  heavenly.12  How  is  he  not  heavenly 
who  was  made  to  the  image  and  likeness  of  God?13 

Rightly  is  heaven  first  and  last  in  the  creation  of  the 
world,  for  in  heaven  there  is  what  is  beyond  heaven,  there  is 
the  God  of  heaven.  Lastly,  of  him  it  is  understood:  'Heaven 
is  my  throne/14  for  God  does  not  sit  above  the  element  of 
heaven  but  in  the  heart  of  man.  For  this  reason  the  Lord 

8  Cf.  Eph.  6.12. 

9  Cf.  Gen.  9.21. 

10  Cf.  2  Cor.  1L29. 

11  Cf.  Acts  16.22. 

12  Cf.  1  Cor.  15.49. 

13  Cf.  Gen.  1.26. 

14  Isa.  66.1. 


258  SAINT  AMBROSE 

also  says:  £We  will  come  to  him  and  make  our  abode  with 
him.'15  Heaven,  therefore,  is  the  first  of  the  works  on  earth; 
man  is  the  close  or  end  or  last. 

Heaven  is  of  the  world,  man  above  the  world;  the  one  is 
part  of  the  world,  the  other  an  inhabitant  of  paradise,  Christ's 
possession.  Heaven  is  considered  incorruptible,  yet  it  passes 
away;  man  is  regarded  as  corruptible  and  is  clothed  with 
incorruption;  the  figure  of  the  one  perishes,  the  other  rises  as 
being  immortal.  Yet,  according  to  the  authority  of  Scripture, 
the  hands  of  the  Lord  fashioned  both.  We  read  of  the 
heavens:  The  heavens  are  the  works  of  thy  hands.'16  Man, 
too,  says:  Thy  hands  have  made  me  and  formed  me,'17  and 
The  heavens  declare  the  glory  of  God.'18  As  heaven  is  lighted 
with  the  splendor  of  the  stars  so  do  men  shine  with  the  light 
of  their  gpod  works,  and  their  deeds  shine  before  their  Father 
in  heaven.19  The  one  is  the  firmament  of  heaven  on  high, 
the  other  is  a  similar  firmament  of  which  it  is  said:  'Upon 
this  rock  I  will  build  my  Church';20  the  one  is  a  firmament 
of  the  elements,  the  other  of  virtues,  and  this  last  is  more 
excellent.  They  sucked  oil  out  of  the  hard  stone,21  for  the 
rock  is  Christ's  body  which  redeemed  heaven  and  the  entire 
world.22 

Why  should  I  weave  these  details  further  and,  as  it  were, 
take  you  over  the  whole  course?  The  fact  is  that  God  made 
man  a  partaker  of  the  divine  nature,  as  we  read  in  the  Epistle 
of  Peter.23  Hence,  someone  says  not  without  cause:  Tor  we 

15  John  14.23. 

16  Ps.  101.26. 

17  Ps.  118.73. 

18  Ps.  17.1, 

19  Cf.  Matt.  5.16. 

20  Matt.  16.18. 

21  Cf.  Deut.  32.13. 

22  Cf.  1  Cor.  10.4. 

23  Cf.  2  Peter  1.4. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  259 

are  also  his  offspring.'24  He  granted  us  a  relationship  with 
Himself,  and  we  are  of  a  rational  nature  so  that  we  may 
seek  that  which  is  divine,  which  is  not  far  from  each  one  of 
us,  in  whom  we  live  and  are  and  move. 

When  He  had  bestowed  the  greatest  of  graces  on  man,  as 
though  he  were  His  dearest  and  nearest  friend,  He  gave  him 
everything  in  the  world,25  so  that  no  one  would  be  without 
the  necessities  of  life  and  the  good  life.  One  of  these  is  the 
means  of  providing  pleasure — the  abundance  of  the  earth's 
fruits;  another  is  the  knowledge  of  the  secrets  of  heaven, 
which  inflames  the  mind  with  love  for  his  fellow  men  and 
longing  for  virtue  by  which  we  can  reach  the  summit  of 
divine  mysteries.  Both  are  most  excellent — to  have,  as  a  king 
of  the  elements,  the  use  of  the  sea,  and  to  have  all  the 
world's  wealth  subject  to  him — creatures  of  air,  land  and 
water;  to  abound  in  all  things  without  labor  or  want  in  the 
image  and  likeness  of  the  adorable  Creator,  living  in  the 
greatest  plenty,  opening  a  way  and  advancing  along  a  path 
by  which  to  reach  the  palace  of  heaven. 

You  will  discover  quite  early  that  the  traveler  on  this 
difficult  road  is  the  man  who  has  been  so  fashioned  in  purpose 
of  heart  and  will  that  he  has  little  association  with  his  body, 
who  enters  into  no  fellowship  with  vice  and  is  not  impressed 
by  flattering  words.  When  he  rides  the  chariot  of  prosperity 
he  does  not  scorn  the  humble,  or  flee  sorrows,  or  shake  off 
and  make  light  of  the  praises  of  the  saints,  or  by  desire  for 
glory  and  bold  gain  expend  all  the  eagerness  of  his  hope. 
Sadness  does  not  bow  down  his  mind;  wrong-dealing  does 
not  break  it;  suspicion  does  not  arouse  it;  lust  does  not  stir 
it.  The  body's  passions  do  not  overwhelm  it;  desire  for  vain 
objects  and  the  allurements  of  pleasure  do  not  disquiet  it. 

24  Acts  17.28.  The  words  quoted  by  St.  Paul  are  from  the  Greek  poet 
Aratus  of  Cilicia,  a  fellow  countryman  of  Paul, 

25  Cf.  Gen.  1.28. 


260  SAINT  AMBROSE 

If  you  add  to  these  the  virtues  of  chastity,  soberness,  and 
temperance,  he  is  easily  able  to  rein  in  the  unruly  drives  of 
fickle  passions,  he  sets  bounds  to  his  pleasures  and  desires,  he 
puts  an  end  to  irresolution  with  fairness,  he  settles  doubts 
with  tranquility  of  mind  and  body,  and,  like  a  good  judge, 
he  keeps  a  harmless  peace  between  the  exterior  and  interior 
man,  stilling  each  within  himself.  And  if  he  is  in  distress,  no 
evil  counselor  turns  him  back  through  fear  from  the  crown 
of  suffering;  plainly,  he  will  be  brought  in  not  only  as  a 
friend  but  as  a  son  by  a  father,  so  that  he  may  enjoy  the 
riches  of  glory  and  His  inheritance. 

Quite  rightly  is  he  the  last,  as  it  were,  the  consummation 
of  nature  fashioned  for  righteousness,  the  judge  of  right 
among  other  living  creatures.  For  example,  as  among  men 
Christ  is  the  consummation  of  the  law  for  all  who  believe 
justice,26  and  we  are,  as  it  were,  beasts  in  God's  sight,  so  the 
Prophet  says:  'I  became  as  a  brute  beast  before  thee.527  Yet, 
what  is  the  comparison  when  He  redeemed  those  who  were 
perishing,  and  we  put  them  to  death — He  called  slaves  to 
liberty  and  we  put  the  free  into  captivity?  But  who  is  equal 
to  God?28 

Man,  therefore,  came  the  last  of  all  creatures,  attractive  in 
appearance,  lofty  in  mind,  so  that  he  would  be  admirable  to 
every  creature,  having  in  him,  after  the  image  of  the  eternal 
God,  an  invisible  intelligence,29  clothed  in  human  form. 
This  is  the  intelligence,  the  power  of  the  soul,  claiming  for 
itself  like  a  ruler  the  direction  of  soul  and  body.  Other 
creatures  fear  this,  although  they  do  not  see  it,  as  we  fear 
God  whom  we  do  not  see,  and  fear  the  more  because  we  do 
not  see  Him. 

26  Cf.  Rom.  10.4. 

27  Ps.  72.22. 

28  Cf.  Ps.  88.9. 

29  Gr.:  nous. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  261 

Since  we  are  in  His  image  and  likeness,  as  Scripture  says,30 
let  us  presume  to  speak,  just  as  He  expresses  Himself  in  the 
fullness  of  His  majesty,  and  sees  all  things — sky,  air,  earth, 
sea — embracing  all  and  penetrating  each  one,  so  that  nothing 
passes  His  notice  and  nothing  exists  unless  it  exists  in  Him 
and  depends  on  Him  and  is  full  of  Him,  as  He  Himself 
says:  CI  fill  heaven  and  earth,  saith  the  Lord.'31  In  the  same 
way  man's  intelligence  sees  all,  and  is  not  seen,  and  has  an 
invisible  nature  of  its  own.  Through  learning  and  judgment 
and  perception  the  mind  understands  hidden  matters,  pene- 
trates the  secrets  of  the  sea  and  the  deep  recesses  of  all  the 
earth.  She  searches  both  parts  of  nature,  in  the  likeness  of 
the  high  God  whom  she  imitates  and  follows,  whose  image 
is  mirrored  in  each  individual  in  proportionately  small  par- 
ticles. She  raises  herself  into  the  air  and  treads  above  the 
regions  of  the  clouds;  she  soars  to  the  heights  of  heaven  by 
her  desire  for  knowledge  and  her  longing  for  wisdom;  there, 
held  fast  for  a  while  by  wonder  at  the  stars  of  heaven, 
delighted  by  their  brilliant  light,  she  gazes  down  on  the 
things  of  the  world.  She  betakes  herself  to  Hesperus  and 
Arcturus  and  the  other  unerring  planets,  and  she  sees  that 
their  wandering  is  not  waywardness,  that  in  order  to  visit  all 
regions  they  appear  to  weave  about  and  wander  in  and  out 
unerringly.  She  soars  with  greater  longing  to  the  very  embrace 
of  the  Father  in  whom  is  the  only-begotten  Son  of  God  telling 
secrets  of  God,  which  will  be  revealed  face  to  face  in  a  later 
time.32  Now,  He  reveals  in  part  and  in  mystery  to  those  who 
are  worthy,  and  He  sheds  forth  the  Spirit  and  from  His 
countenance,  like  a  torrent,  a  resplendent  light,  so  that  man 
who  has  been  illumined  may  say:  'And  there  was  in  my 
bones  a  flaming  fire,  and  I  am  melted  on  all  sides  and  cannot 

30  Cf.  Gen.  1.26. 

31  Jer.  23.24. 

32  Cf.  John  1.18. 


262  SAINT  AMBROSE 

bear  it.333  And  David  says:  'Let  my  sentence  come  forth 
from  thy  presence,'34 

After  this  digression  let  me  now  speak  of  that  vigor  of 
mind  through  which  she  governs  all  outside  her,  gazes  at 
scattered  and  far-distant  things,  subdues  animals  of  greater- 
strength,  inspires  in  others  such  great  respect  for  herself  that 
they  vie  with  one  another  in  obeying  her,  as  though  she 
were  a  king,  and  heed  her  words.  Though  irrational,  they 
recognize  reason  and  they  are  impressed  with  that  learning 
which  nature  did  not  give  them.  Even  wild  beasts,  seeing  her 
gentleness,  grow  gentle  at  her  command.  They  often  close 
their  jaws  when  the  sound  of  a  man's  voice  restrains  them. 
We  see  hares  caught  without  injury  by  the  harmless  teeth  of 
dogs,  and  lions  will  let  go  their  prey  if  a  man's  voice  is 
heard;  leopards,  too,  and  bears  are  driven  on  or  called  off 
by  men's  words;  horses  neigh  at  men's  applause  and  slacken 
their  pace  because  of  [men's]  silence,  and  often,  although  not 
whipped,  they  outstrip  those  which  are  lashed,  so  much  more 
powerfully  does  the  whip  of  the  tongue  drive  them  on. 

What  shall  I  say  of  gifts  [of  creation]?  In  order  to  please 
man  the  ram  nourishes  his  fleece  and  plunges  into  the 
stream  in  order  to  increase  his  sheen.  Sheep  chew  richer 
grasses35  in  order  to  distend  their  filled  udders36  with  the 
sweeter  juice  of  milk;  they  suffer  the  pains  of  travail  in  order 
to  give  their  gifts  to  man.  Bulls  groan  all  day  under  the  plow 
which  is  pressed  into  the  furrows.37  Camels,  besides  the 
task  of  carrying  loads,  allow  themselves  to  be  sheared  like 
sheep.  The  various  animals  make  their  offering  as  to  a  king 
and  pay  an  annual  tax.  The  horse,  taking  delight  in  his 
rider,  prances  proudly  and,  arching  his  back  when  his  master 

33  Jer.  20,9. 

34  Ps.  16.2. 

35  Cf.  Virgil,  Aen.  12.475. 

36  Cf.  Virgil,  Eel.  4.21. 

37  Cf.  Virgil,  Georg.  1.45. 

38  Ibid.  3.117. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  263 

mounts,  offers  his  back  as  the  rider's  seat.38  If  it  still  puzzles 
you  why  man  was  made  last,  let  that  horse  teach  us  that 
man  was  delayed  not  as  a  slight,  but  as  an  honor.  A  horse 
carries  one  who  came  after  him;  he  does  not  despise  but 
fears  him ;  he  takes  him  everywhere  with  pain  to  himself.  In  a 
moment  man  reaches  distant  places,  traverses  long  distances, 
now  on  a  single  horse,  now  in  a  triumphal  chariot. 

Since  I  have  mentioned  triumphal  chariots,  I  must  refer  to 
the  chariot  of  Elias  in  which  he  was  carried  through  the  air,39 
and  those  chariots  of  elephants  on  which  man  the  conqueror 
sits  and  rules  those  before  him,  although  he  is  the  last.  So, 
too,  the  ship's  helmsman  sits  in  the  stern,  yet  he  guides  the 
whole  ship.  That  is  why,  I  suppose,  it  is  said,  not  without 
purpose  in  the  Gospel,  that  the  Lord  Jesus  was  asleep  in  the 
stern,  and  when  He  was  awakened  He  commanded  the  wind 
and  the  sea  and  calmed  the  storm,40  showing  that  He  came 
last  because  He  came  as  the  helmsman.  Therefore,  the  Apostle 
says:  '"The  first  man,  Adam,  became  a  living  soul";  the 
last  Adam  became  a  life-giving  spirit.  But  it  is  not  the 
spiritual  that  comes  first  but  the  physical,  and  then  the 
spiritual,'  and  he  added:  'The  first  man  was  of  the  earth, 
earthy:  the  second  man  is  from  heaven,  heavenly.'41 

Rightly,  then,  is  the  last  one  like  the  sum  of  the  whole 
work.  It  is  he  alone  who,  like  the  cause  of  the  world  for 
which  were  made  all  things,  dwells,  so  to  speak,  in  all  the 
elements — lives  amid  beasts,  swims  with  fish,  flies  above  the 
birds,  talks  with  angels,  dwells  on  earth,  wars  in  heaven, 
ploughs  the  sea,  feeds  in  the  air,  is  a  tiller  of  the  soil,  a 
traveler  on  the  deep,  a  fisherman  in  streams,  a  fowler  in  the 
air,  an  heir  in  heaven,  a  joint-heir  with  Christ.42  This  he 
does  by  his  energy. 

39  Cf.  4  Kings  2.11. 

40  Cf.  Matt.  8.24. 

41  1  Cor.  15.45-47. 

42  Cf.  Rom.  8.17. 


264  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Learn,  too,  man's  supernatural  powers.  Moses  walked 
along  the  bottom  of  the  sea,43  the  Apostles  upon  it,44  Habacuc 
flew  without  wings,45  Elias  conquered  on  earth  and  had  his 
triumph  in  heaven.46 

Farewell,  son,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 


50.  Ambrose  to  Horontianus  (Spring,  387) 

You  have  noted  remarkably  well  the  distinction  drawn  by 
the  Prophet,  or,  rather,  by  God,  for  Moses  did  not  write  by 
his  own  power;  he  wrote  by  inspiration  and  revelation, 
particularly  in  what  concerns  the  creation  of  the  world.  This 
distinction  sets  apart  worker  and  works.1  Since  the  one  was 
incapable  of  suffering  and  the  other  susceptible  of  suffering, 
he  attributed  that  which  is  incapable  of  suffering  to  God  the 
worker,  and  to  the  world  that  which  is  susceptible  of  suffering, 
having  no  life  or  motion  of  its  own,  receiving  from  its  Creator 
motion,  life,  and  form.  The  world,  once  it  was  made,  was  not 
to  be  left  unguarded,  without  a  pilot  and  father.  Hence,  he 
relates  very  clearly  that  the  unseen  God  is  the  guide  and 
protector  of  this  visible  world.  The  invisible,  then,  is  ever- 
lasting; the  visible  is  temporal.2 

He  states  that  the  world  was  made  in  six  days,  not  because 
God  had  need  of  time  to  set  it  up,  since  a  moment  suffices 
for  Him  to  do  what  He  wishes,  for  'he  spoke  and  they  were 
made,53  but  things  which  are  made  require  an  order  and 
order  generally  requires  both  time  and  number.  For  this 

43  Cf.  Exod.  14.29. 

44  Cf.  John  21.8. 

45  Cf.  Dan.  14.35. 

46  Cf.  4  Kings  2.11  r 

1  Cf.  Gen.  1.1. 

2  Cf.  2  Cor.  4.18. 

3  Ps.  148.5. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  265 

reason,  being  about  to  give  us  a  pattern  for  our  work.  He 
observed  a  number  of  days  and  seasons.  We,  too,  need  time 
to  do  something  well,  so  as  not  to  hurry,  our  plans  and  works, 
or  fail  to  keep  a  proper  order.  But  when  we  read,  as  Scripture 
shows,4  that  God  did  all  things  with  wisdom  and  certain 
foresight  and  purpose  and  order,  it  is  consonant  with  reason 
that  He  first  made  heaven  which  is  most  beautiful.  This  must 
be  so  that  we  may  lift  our  eyes  there  first  and  realize  that 
we  must  arrive  there,  and  esteem  that  abode  preferable  to  all 
things  of  earth. 

Hence,  £He  created  the  world  in  six  days  and  on  the 
seventh  He  rested  from  His  works.'5  The  number  seven  is 
good;  we  shall  treat  it,  not  as  do  the  Pythagoreans  or  other 
philosophers,  but  according  to  the  form  and  divisions  of 
spiritual  grace,  since  the  Prophet  Isaias  has  included  seven 
principal  virtues  of  the  Holy  Spirit.6  This  sevenfold  number, 
like  that  of  the  adorable  Trinity  of  the  Father  and  Son  and 
Holy  Spirit,  without  time  or  order,  is  the  origin  of  number, 
being  not  bound  by  the  law  of  number.  And  as  the  sky,  the 
earth,  and  the  sea  were  formed  for  the  sake  of  the  Trinity, 
as  well  as  the  sun,  the  moon,  and  the  stars,  so,  too,  do  we 
note  that  for  the  sevenfold  path  and  orbit  of  spiritual  virtues, 
driven  on  by  the  vigor  of  a  divine  operation,  a  sevenfold 
ministry  of  planets  was  created  for  the  illumination  of  the 
world.  Their  services  are  said  to  agree  with  their  number, 
being  called  fixed  stars  or,  as  the  Greeks  say  aplaneisJ  The 
north  has  also  received  its  Latin  name,  septemtrio?  because 
a  gleam  of  seven  stars  shines  in  it  and  pilots  are  said  to  keep 
it  before  their  gaze  as  a  guide. 

4  Cf.  Ps.  103.24. 

5  Cf.  Gen.  2.2. 

6  Cf.  Isa.  11.2. 

7  Literally,  'not  wanderers/ 

8  septemtrio,  also  called  the  Wain  and  the  Great  and  Little  Bear. 


266  SAINT  AMBROSE 

This  particular  dignity  of  rank  has  come  down  from 
heaven  to  earth,  not  to  mention  the  sevenfold  gift  of  head, 
two  eyes,  two  ears  and  nostrils,  and  the  mouth  by  which  we 
partake  of  great  sweetness.  How  wonderful  it  is  that  for 
most  men  their  genuine  beginning  is  formed  in  the  seventh 
month,9  and  one  who  will  issue  forth  at  a  later  time  begins 
the  course  of  his  life's  generation.  But  we  see  that  nature 
itself  prohibits  the  eighth  month  as  the  season  for  bringing 
forth  children;  if  some  grave  necessity  perchance  opens  the 
barrier  of  the  womb10  at  that  time,  peril  is  advanced  for  the 
mother  and  child.11 

A  child,  born  at  seven  months,  though  born  well,  is 
born  for  hardships;  but  one  who  begins  the  mystery  of 
regeneration  on  the  eighth  day  is  sanctified  by  grace  and 
called  to  the  inheritance  of  the  kingdom  of  heaven.  Great  in 
the  power  of  the  Holy  Spirit  is  the  grace  of  seven,  yet  the  same 
grace  echoes  in  response  to  seven  and  consecrates  the  num- 
ber eight.  In  the  one  is  the  name;  in  the  other,  the  enjoyed. 
Thus,  the  grace  of  the  Spirit  which  was  bestowed  on  the 
eighth  day  brought  back  to  paradise  those  whom  sin  had 
made  outcasts. 

The  Old  Testament  took  note  of  this  number  eight,  called 
by  us  in  Latin  an  octave,  for  Ecclesiastes  says:  'Give  a 
portion  to  those  seven,  and  also  to  those  eight.'12  The  seven 
of  the  Old  Testament  is  the  eight  of  the  New,  since  Christ 
arose  and  the  day  of  the  new  salvation  has  shed  light  upon 
all  It  is  the  day  of  which  the  Prophet  says:  This  is  the 
day  which  the  Lord  has  made;  let  us  be  glad  and  rejoice  at 
it.'13  On  that  day  there  comes  the  splendor  of  a  full  and 

9  Le.,  the  seventh  month  from  conception. 

10  Cf.  Virgil,  Aen.  2.259. 

1 1  Here  the  Benedictine  edition  repeats  sections  3  and  4  between  sections 
4  and  5.  The  paragraphing  is  made  consecutive  here. 

12  Eccle.  11. 2, 

13  Ps.  117.24. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS 


267 


perfect  circumcision  to  the  hearts  of  men.  On  this  account 
the  Old  Testament  gave  the  number  eight  a  share  in  the 
ceremony  of  circumcision.  But  it  still  lay  hidden  in  darkness. 
Then  came  the  Sun  of  justice14  and  in  the  accomplishment 
of  His  passion  He  revealed  the  rays  of  His  light,  showing 
them  to  all,  disclosing  the  brightness  of  eternal  life. 

Those  are  the  seven  and  eight  of  which  Osee  says  that 
with  this  number  he  bought  and  took  to  himself  the  fullness 
of  faith,  for  you  read:  'And  I  went  and  bought  her  to  me 
for  fifteen  pieces  of  silver  and  for  a  core  of  barley  and  for  a 
half  core  of  barley  and  a  measure  of  wine.'15  The  Lord  had 
told  him  previously  to  buy  a  harlot,  and  it  is  proof  that  he 
bought  her  since  he  declares  how  much  he  paid.  The  fifteen 
pieces  of  silver  consist  of  seven  and  eight  and  symbolize  the 
number  seven  and  the  number  eight.  By  the  price  of  the  two 
Testaments,  that  is,  of  the  fullness  of  faith,  the  prophecy 
received  the  consummation  of  faith,  the  Church  received 
the  fullness.  By  the  first  Testament  the  people  of  Israel  were 
gained;  by  the  second,  the  heathens  and  Gentiles.  By  the 
plenitude  of  faith  the  harlot  is  bought  who  seeks  union  with 
the  Gentiles  or  with  adulterous  people  of  the  Jews  who  left 
their  Lord  and  the  author  of  their  virginal  faith,  spreading 
their  assemblies  all  over  the  world. 

When  he  said  ea  core  and  a  half  core  of  barley,'  under- 
stand that  in  a  core  there  is  full  measure,  in  a  half  core 
half  measure.  The  fullness  is  in  the  Gospel,  only  semi- 
perfection  is  in  the  Law,  as  we  read  when  the  Lord  said:  *I 
have  not  come  to  destroy  the  law,  but  to  fulfill.'16  Elsewhere, 
too,  we  have  the  Lord  saying  through  the  Prophet  Micheas: 
'Then  this  man  will  be  our  peace  in  the  land  of  Israel,  when 
the  Assyrian  shall  come  into  his  land,  and  seven  shepherds  and 

14  Cf.  MaL  4.2. 

15  Osee  3.2. 

16  Matt.  5.17. 


268  SAINT  AMBROSE 

eight  jaws  of  men  have  risen  against  him.'17  The  faithful 
people  then  will  enjoy  perfect  peace  and  freedom  from  all 
temptation  and  vanity,  for  peace  and  grace  will  shut  out  of 
their  hearts  the  vanity  of  this  world.  Peace  is  of  the  Old 
Testament;  grace,  of  the  New. 

The  seven  shepherds  are  the  commandments  of  the  Law 
which  in  the  rod  of  Moses  guided  and  governed  the  flock 
through  the  desert.18  The  eight  jaws  of  men  are  the  com- 
mandments of  the  Gospel  and  the  words  of  the  Lord's  mouth : 
'With  the  heart  a  man  believes  unto  justice,  and  with  the 
mouth  profession  of  faith  is  made  unto  salvation.'19  Those 
jaws  are  good  by  which  we  have  tasted  the  gift  of  eternal 
life,  devouring  the  remission  of  sins  in  the  Body  of  Christ. 
In  the  Old  Testament  the  jaw  of  death  is  bitter,  since  it  is 
said:  'Strong  death  is  all  devouring.'20  In  the  New  Testament 
the  jaw  of  death  is  sweet,  for  it  has  swallowed  death,  as  the 
Apostle  says:  'Death  is  swallowed  up  in  victory?  O  death, 
where  is  thy  victory?  O  death,  where  is  thy  sting?'21 

To  use,  in  addition,  the  Apostle's  evidence:  when  God 
made  man  He  rested  the  seventh  day  from  all  His  works.22 
But  because  the  Jewish  people  through  contempt  refused  to 
obey  the  commands  of  their  God,  the  Lord  said:  clf  they 
shall  enter  into  my  rest.323  God  appointed  another  day  and 
said  of  it:  CO  that  you  may  hear  My  voice  today.'24  The 
words  of  Scripture  include  all  days  in  two  days,  yesterday 
and  today,  as  in  the  words:  'Imitate  their  faith  in  Jesus 
Christ,  He  is  the  same  yesterday  and  today,  yes,  and  for- 
ever.'25 The  promise  is  made  the  first  day;  the  following  day 

17  Mich.  5.5. 

18  Cf.  Exod.  4.20. 

19  Rom.  10.10. 

20  Isa.  25.8    (Septuagint) . 

21  1  Cor.  15.54,55. 

22  Cf.  Gen.  2.2. 

23  Ps.  94.11. 

24  Ps.  94.7. 

25  Heb,  13.7,8. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  269 

It  is  fulfilled.  Since  neither  Moses  nor  Josue,  the  son  of  Nun, 
brought  the  people  to  their  rest  yesterday,  Christ  brought 
them  today  to  whom  His  Father  said:  'This  day  I  have 
begotten  thee.'26  Through  His  resurrection  Jesus  has  pur- 
chased rest  for  His  people.  Our  rest  is  the  Lord  Jesus,  who 
says:  'This  day  thou  shalt  be  with  me  in  paradise.'27  Rest  is 
in  heaven;  it  is  not  on  earth. 

What  need  have  I  to  study  the  rising  and  the  setting  of 
the  stars,28  and  at  their  rising  plough  up  and  pierce  the 
fallow  ground  with  hard  ploughshares,  or  at  their  setting 
cut  the  fruitful  crop?29  One  star  means  more  to  me  than  all 
the  others,  'the  bright  morning  star'30  at  whose  rising  was 
sown  not  the  seed  of  grain  but  the  seed  of  martyrs,  that  time 
when  Rachel  wept  for  her  children31  to  offer  for  Christ  her 
babes  washed  with  her  tears.32  The  setting  of  that  star  brought 
back  in  triumph  from  the  tomb  not  the  unfeeling  relics  of 
funeral  piles,  but  bands  of  the  living,  who  had  been  dead. 

The  number  seven  should  be  esteemed  because  the  life  of 
man  passes  through  seven  stages  to  -old  age,  as  Hippocrates,33 
the  master  of  medicine,  has  explained  in  his  writings.  The 
first  age  is  infancy;  the  second,  boyhood;  the  third,  youth; 
fourth,  adulthood;  fifth,  manhood;  sixth,  maturity;  seventh, 
old  age.  So  there  is  the  infant,  the  child,  the  youth,  the 
young  man,  the  man,  the  man  of  experience,  and  the  aged. 

Solon  imagined  that  there  were  ten  periods  of  life,  each 
of  seven  years'  duration.34  The  first  period  of  infancy  extends 
to  the  time  when  he  cuts  his  teeth,  which  he  uses  in  chewing 

26  Ps.  2.7. 

27  Luke  23.43. 

28  Cf.  Virgil,  Eel.  9.46. 

29  Cf.  Virgil,  Georg.  1.71. 

30  Apoc.  22.16. 

31  Cf.  Jer.  31.15. 

32  The  Holy  Innocents. 

33  Ambrose  here  makes  use  of  Philo  Judaeus,  ed.  L.  Cohn   (Berlin  1896) . 
De  mundi  opificio  36.105  contains  the  reference  to  Hippocrates. 

34  Ibid.  35.104  contains  the  reference  to  Solon. 


270  SAINT  AMBROSE 

his  food  and  articulating  his  speech  so  that  it  Is  distinct; 
boyhood  extends  to  the  time  of  puberty  and  carnal  temp- 
tations; youth  to  the  growth  of  the  beard;  adulthood  to 
attaining  of  perfect  manliness;  the  fifth  age  is  manhood — 
during  its  seven-year  period  it  is  fully  adapted  to  marriage; 
the  sixth  period,  too,  is  assigned  to  manhood,  which  is 
well-suited  to  display  prudence  and  is  vigorous  in  its  action; 
the  seventh  period  and  the  eighth  show  man  ripe  in  years, 
vigorous  in  his  faculties,  and  his  speech  endowed  with  a 
quality  of  delivery  not  unpleasant;  the  ninth  period  still  has 
some  strength  left,  while  in  speech  and  wisdom  it  is  more 
mellow;  the  tenth  period  of  seven  years  completes  the  span, 
and  one  who  reaches  this  period  will  after  the  full  course  of 
time  finally  knock  at  the  gate  of  death. 

Both  Hippocrates  and  Solon  admitted  either  seven  ages 
or  seven-year  periods.  In  these  the  number  seven  should 
prevail.  The  eighth  period  introduces  one  continual  period 
in  which  we  grow  up  into  a  perfect  man,  knowing  God, 
possessing  the  fullness  of  faith,  wherein  the  measure  of 
genuine  life  is  fulfilled.35 

Even  in  the  organs  of  our  body  the  number  seven  is 
favored.  They  say  that  we  have  seven  organs  within  us: 
stomach,  heart,  lungs,  spleen,  liver,  and  the  two  kidneys. 
These  are  also  seven  outwardly:  head,  hind  parts,  abdomen, 
two  hands,  and  two  feet. 

These  are  very  excellent,  but  they  are  subject  to  pain. 
Would  anyone  doubt  that  the  number  eight  has  a  greater 
task,  for  it  renews  the  whole  man  and  makes  him  unable  to 
suffer?  Now  that  the  seventh  age  of  the  world  has  been 
concluded,  the  grace  of  the  eighth  has  dawned,  and  made  man 
no  longer  of  this  world  but  above  it.  No  longer  do  we  live 
our  life,  but  we  live  Christ:  Tor  me  to  live  is  Christ  and  to 
die  is  gain.  ...  I  no  longer  live  in  the  flesh,  but  in  the  faith 

35  Cf.  Eph.  4.13. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  271 

of  Christ.'36  The  Apostle  has  spoken  and  we  know  from  this 
that  the  day  of  the  world  has  drawn  to  a  close.  At  the  last 
hour,  the  Lord  Jesus  came  and  died  for  us.  And  we  are  all 
dead  in  Him  so  that  we  may  live  to  God.37  We  who  were 
do  not  live,  but  Christ  lives  in  us.38 

The  number  seven  has  gone;  the  number  eight  has  come. 
Yesterday  is  gone;  today  has  come.  That  is  the  promised 
day  on  which  we  have  been  warned  to  hear  and  follow 
God's  word.  The  day  of  the  Old  Testament  is  gone;  the  new 
day  has  come  wherein  the  New  Testament  is  made  perfect, 
of  which  he  [Paul]  says:  'Behold  the  days  are  coming,  says 
the  Lord,  when  I  will  make  a  new  covenant  with  the  house 
of  Israel  and  with  the  house  of  Juda,  not  according  to  the 
covenant  which  I  made  with  their  fathers,  in  that  day  that  I 
took  them  by  the  hand  to  lead  them  out  of  the  land  of 
Egypt.'39  He  adds  the  reason  why  the  covenant  was  changed: 
'They  did  not  abide  by  my  covenant,  and  I  did  not  regard 
them,  says  the  Lord.'40 

The  priests  of  the  Law  and  the  sanctuaries  of  the  Law  have 
gone.  Let  us  draw  near  our  new  High  Priest,41  to  the  throne  of 
grace,42  the  Guest  of  our  souls,  the  Priest,  made  not  accord- 
ing to  the  law  of  the  carnal  commandment,  but  chosen  by  the 
power  [of  the  command]  which  cannot  end.43  He  did  not 
take  the  honor  to  Himself,44  but  He  was  chosen  by  the 
Father,  as  the  Father  Himself  says :  Thou  art  a  priest  forever 
according  to  the  order  of  Melchisedech.'4^  We  see  what  the 

36  Phil.  1.20. 

37  Cf.  1  John  2.18. 

38  Cf.  2  Cor.  5.15. 

39  Jer.  31.31,32. 

40  Heb.  8.9. 

41  Cf.  Heb.  4.14. 

42  Heb.  4.16. 

43  Cf.  Heb.  7.16. 

44  Cf.  Heb.  5.4. 

45  Ps.  109.4;  Heb.  7.17. 


272  SAINT  AMBROSE 

new  Priest  has  offered.  Other  priests  make  offerings  for 
themselves  and  their  people.  This  one,  having  no  sin  of  His 
own  for  which  He  should  make  offerings,  offered  Himself  for 
the  world  and  by  His  own  Blood  entered  the  Holy  of  Holies. 

He,  then,  is  the  new  Priest  and  the  new  Victim,  not  of 
the  Law  but  above  it,  the  Advocate  of  the  world,  the  Light 
of  time,  who  said:  'Behold  I  come,  and  he  came.546  Let  us 
approach  Him  to  adore  Him  in  the  fullness  of  faith  and  to 
hope  in  Him  whom  we  do  not  see  with  our  eyes,  but  whom 
we  have  in  our  heart.  To  Him  is  all  honor  always  and  glory. 

Farewell,  son,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 


5L  Ambrose  to  Horontianus,  greetings  (c.  387) 

You  asked  me  whether  the  soul  is  in  all  likelihood  a  heavy 
substance,  for  you  do  not  believe  that  the  soul  is  blood  or 
fire  or  a  harmony  of  nerves,  as  ordinary  philosophers  teach. 
Again,  it  seems  to  you  that  the  soul  is  that  which  moves 
itself  and  is  moved  by  no  other,  for  this  is  the  teaching  of 
the  ancient  line  of  followers  of  Plato.  You  feel  at  least,  since 
Aristotle  inferred  with  remarkable  originality  some  sort  of 
fifth  element,  that  there  is  an  element,  entellechia,  from 
which  you  would  derive  or  form  the  substance  of  the  soul.1 

I  suggest  that  you  read  the  Book  of  Esdras,2  for  he  has  his 
back  on  those  little  nothings  of  the  philosophers  and  with 
that  deeper  wisdom  which  he  gathered  from  revelation  has 
shown  quite  briefly  that  souls  are  of  a  superior  substance. 

46  Apoc.  32.7. 

1  Cf.  Plato,  Laws  10.891,  where  he  takes  issue  with  Aristotle  for  saying 
that  'the  first  cause  of  the  generation  and  destruction  of  ail  things  is 
not  the  first  but  the  last.'  But  Cicero   (Tusc.  1.10.22)    calls  entellechia 
'continuum.' 

2  Cf.  4  Esd.  passim. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  273 

The  Apostle,  too,  if  not  expressly,  at  least  like  a  good 
teacher  and  spiritual  farmer,  quickening  the  souls  of  his 
disciples  with  hidden  seeds  of  doctrine,  leaves  us  to  understand 
that  our  souls  are  of  a  higher  order  of  creation  and  a  most 
excellent  nature.  When  he  says  that  'creation  was  made 
subject  to  vanity — not  by  its  own  will  but  by  reason  of  him 
who  made  it  subject — in  hope,  because  creation  itself  will 
also  be  delivered  from  its  slavery  to  corruption  into  the 
freedom  of  the  glory  of  the  sons  of  God,'3  he  shows  that  the 
grace  of  the  soul  is  no  small  thing,  for  by  its  strength  and 
power  the  human  race  rises  to  the  adoption  of  sons  of  God, 
having  in  itself  that  which  was  given  to  it  in  the  image  and 
likeness  of  God.  Souls  are  grasped  by  no  touch,  they  are 
seen  not  with  bodily  eyes,  and  they  have  a  likeness  to  that 
incorporeal  and  invisible  nature,  surpassing  with  their  sub- 
stance the  corporeal  and  sensible  character  of  things.  Objects 
which  are  seen  are  temporal,  they  indicate  the  temporal,  they 
are  bound  up  with  the  temporal;  those  which  are  not  seen 
cling  to  that  eternal  and  highest  good,  and  in  it  they  live 
and  are  and  move.4  Good  men,  if  they  take  thought,  do  not 
let  themselves  be  separated  or  drawn  away  from  this  [good]. 

Every  soul,  then,  since  it  is  enclosed  within  the  hovel  of 
the  body,  if  it  has  not  debased  itself  by  partnership  with  this 
earthly  habitation,  sighs  under  the  weight  of  union  with  the 
body,5  because  the  corruptible  body  is  a  load  upon  the  soul 
and  the  earthly  habitation  presses  down  the  mind  which 
muses  on  many  things.6  At  the  same  time,  realizing  that  it 
walks  by  faith  and  not  by  vision,  it  wishes  to  be  exiled  from, 
the  body  and  to  be  at  home  with  the  Lord.7 

Let  us  notice  how  the  creature  has  been  made  subject  to 

3  Rom.  8.20,21. 

4  Cf.  Acts  17.28. 

5  Cf.  2  Cor.  5.4. 

6  Cf.  Wis.  9.15. 

7  Cf.  2  Cor.  5.7,8. 


274  SAINT  AMBROSE 

vanity,8  not  by  its  own  wish,  but  by  the  divine  will  which 
has  arranged  that  souls  must  be  joined  to  a  body  in  hope, 
so  that  while  hoping  for  good  things  they  may  prepare  them- 
selves to  be  worthy  of  a  heavenly  reward:  Tor  all  of  us 
must  be  made  manifest  before  the  tribunal  of  Christ,  so  that 
each  one  may  receive  what  he  has  won  through  his  body.'9 
The  soul  of  each  person  should  make  provision  for  the  rewards 
to  be  meted  out  for  life  in  the  world.  Very  aptly  does  he 
say:  'what  each  has  won  through  his  body,'  that  is,  what  the 
part  of  man  which  must  be  ruled  has  taken  upon  itself.  If 
she  [the  soul]  has  ruled  this  part  well,  let  her  receive  the 
reward  for  which  she  was  subject  in  hope;  if  badly,  punish- 
ment, since  she  did  not  hope  in  God  or  strive  for  that 
adoption  of  sons  and  the  freedom  of  true  glory. 

The  Apostle  has  taught  us  that  created  human  nature  is 
subject  to  vanity.  What  is  so  much  a  man  as  his  soul?  Of 
partnership  with  it,  he  says:  'When  we  are  in  the  body,  we 
sigh  under  our  burden/10  But  David  also  says:  'Man  is  like 
a  breath  of  aid,'11  and:  'All  things  are  vanity:  every  man 
living.'12  The  life  of  man  in  this  world  is  vanity.  The  soul 
is  subject  to  this  vanity.  Therefore,  when  a  saint  does  the 
things  of  the  body,  he  does  them,  not  by  choice,  not  willingly, 
but  by  reason  of  Him  who  made  him  subject  in  hope  so 
that  he  may  obey  Him.  Let  us  proceed  from  this  example  of 
the  soul  to  the  rest  of  creation. 

Consider  that  the  sun,  the  moon,  and  the  stars,  the  lights 
of  the  sky  which,  though  they  shine  with  brilliant  splendor, 
are  yet  creatures,  and,  whether  they  rise  or  fall  in  their  daily 
performance  of  duty,  they  serve  the  will  of  the  eternal 


8  Cf.  Rom.  8.20. 

9  2  Cor.  5.10. 

10  2  Cor.  5.4. 

11  Ps.  143.4. 

12  Cf.  Ps.  38.6. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  275 

Creator,  bringing  forth  the  beauty  with  which  they  are 
clothed  and  shining  by  day  and  by  night.  How  often  is  the 
sun  covered  by  clouds  or  taken  from  the  gaze  of  the  earth 
when  the  ray  of  its  light  k  dispelled  in  the  sky  or  an  eclipse 
occurs,  and  as  Scripture  says:  'The  moon  knows  its  going 
down.'13  It  knows  when  it  should  shine  in  full  light  or 
weakened  light.  The  stars,  which  are  engaged  in  service  to 
this  world's  advantage,  disappear  when  they  are  covered  by 
clouds,  not  willingly,  surely,  but  in  hope,  because  they  hope 
for  gratitude  for  their  labor  from  Him  who  made  them 
subject.  Thus,  they  persevere  for  His  sake,  that  is,  for  His  will. 
It  is  not  strange  that  they  persevere  with  patience,  since 
they  know  that  their  Lord  and  the  Creator  of  all  that  is  in 
heaven  or  on  earth  has  taken  upon  Himself  the  frailty  of 
our  body,  the  slavery  of  our  state.  Why  should  they  not 
persevere  patiently  in  the  servitude  of  their  corruption  when 
the  Lord  of  all  humbled  Himself  to  death  for  the  whole 
world,  and  took  the  form  of  a  servant,14  and  was  made  the 
sin  of  the  world  and  a  curse  for  our  sakes?  Although  the 
heavenly  creatures,  who  imitate  Him,  may  groan  because 
they  are  subject  to  the  vanity  of  this  world,  they  console 
themselves  in  the  thought  that  they  will  be  set  free  from  the 
slavery  of  corruption  into  the  liberty  of  glory,  at  the  coming 
of  the  adoption  of  the  sons  of  God,  the  redemption  of  all: 
'When  the  fullness  of  the  Gentiles  comes,  then  will  all  Israel 
be  saved.'15  Will  He  not  forgive  those  people,  He  who  forgave 
His  persecutor  who  had  said:  'Crucify  him!  Crucify  him!516 
and  'His  blood  be  on  us  and  on  our  children'?17  But,  because 
even  the  heavenly  creation  is  subject  to  vanity,  in  hope  the 

13  Ps.  103.19. 

14  Cf.  Phil.  2.7. 

15  Rom.  11.25. 

16  John  19.6. 

17  Matt.  27.25. 


276  SAINT  AMBROSE 

devotion  to  truth  and  the  redemption  of  all  will  allow  even 
their  treachery  and  intoxication  to  arrive  at  pardon,  since 
creation  was  brought  low  by  the  vanity  of  this  world. 

To  conclude,  the  sun,  great  as  it  is  and  such  as  it  is,  and 
the  moon,  which  the  shades  of  night  do  not  cover,  and  the 
stars,  which  adorn  the  sky,  all  now  endure  the  slavery  of 
corruption  because  every  body  is  a  corruptible  thing.  Indeed, 
even  the  skies  will  perish  and  heaven  and  earth  will  pass.18 
At  length  the  sun  and  the  moon  and  the  other  lights  of  the 
stars  will  rest  in  the  glory  of  the  sons  of  God,  since  God  will 
be  all  in  all,19  and  will  be  in  you  and  in  us  by  His  plenitude 
and  mercy. 

Do  we  not  believe  that  the  angels  themselves  groan  in  the 
performance  of  their  various  functions  amid  the  toils  of  this 
world,  as  we  read  in  the  Apocalypse  of  John,20  for  they  are 
made  the  ministers  of  penalties  and  destruction?  They  who 
enjoy  the  life  of  beatitude  would  surely  prefer  to  return  to 
that  high  state  of  peace  rather  than  be  involved  in  avenging 
the  punishment  of  our  sins.  They  who  rejoice  over  the 
repentance  of  one  sinner  surely  lament  the  hardships  of  so 
many  sinners. 

If  even  heavenly  creatures  and  powers  endure  the  slavery 
of  corruption,  but  through  hope,  so  as  to  rejoice  later  for  us 
and  with  us,  let  us  also  comfort  ourselves  for  the  sufferings 
of  this  time  with  the  hope  and  expectation  of  future  glory. 

Farewell,  son,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 

18  Ct  Matt.  24.35. 

19  Cf.  1  Cor.  15.28. 

20  Apoc.  3.1-22. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  277 

52.  Ambrose  to  Horontianus  (c.  387) 

My  last  letter  answered  your  inquiry;  this  letter  is  a  part 
of  my  answer  which  will  not  destroy  but  will  fulfill  the 
former.  For,  while  I  considered  the  matter  further,  I  was 
disturbed,  I  admit,  because  he  [Paul]  added:  Tor  we  know 
that  all  creation  groans/  although  in  an  earlier  verse  he  had 
said  without  any  addition:  'For  creation  was  made  subject 
to  vanity.'  He  said  not  that  'every  creature3  but  'creation* 
has  been  made  subject.  And  again,  he  says:  'Since  creation 
itself  will  be  delivered  from  its  slavery  to  corruption.'  And, 
in  the  third  place,  he  adds:  'every  creature  groans.'1 

What  does  he  wish  to  imply  by  this  addition  except, 
perhaps,  that  not  every  creature  is  subject  to  vanity,  and, 
since  not  everyone  is  subject  to  vanity,  not  everyone  will  be 
freed  from  slavery  to  corruption?  Why  should  that  be  set  free 
which  is  unacquainted  with  and  free  from  subjection  to 
vanity  and  from  slavery  to  corruption?  Let  everyone  groan, 
not  over  his  own  labor  but  over  ours,  and  give  birth,  per- 
chance, to  that  spirit  of  adoption  of  the  sons  of  God  that  he 
may  have  a  share  in  the  joy  and  happiness  over  the  redemp- 
tion of  the  human  race.  Everyone  groans  over  our  labor 
because  of  love  for  himself  or  for  the  member  of  his  own  body, 
of  which  the  head  is  Christ.  But,  whether  he  meant  this  as 
we  have  said,  or  that  every  creature  in  subjection  groans  and 
gives  birth,  this  understand  as  you  wish. 

Let  us  now  consider  what  he  adds:  'And  not  only  it,  but 
we  ourselves  also  who  have  the  first  fruits  of  the  spirit — we 
ourselves  groan  within  ourselves,  waiting  for  the  adoption  as 
sons,  the  redemption  of  our  body.'2  What  adoption  of  sons 
does  the  previous  page  teach?  To  explain  the  meaning  we 
must  go  back  to  the  previous  page. 

1  Rom.  8.20-22. 

2  Rom.  8.23. 


278  SAINT  AMBROSE 

He  says  that  one  who  puts  to  death  the  deeds  of  the  flesh 
will  live.3  It  is  not  strange  that  he  lives,  since  one  who  has 
the  spirit  of  God  becomes  a  son  of  God.  It  is  for  this  reason 
that  he  is  the  Son  of  God  so  that  he  may  receive  not  the  spirit 
of  slavery  but  the  spirit  of  the  adoption  of  sons,  inasmuch  as 
the  Holy  Spirit  gives  proof  to  our  spirit  that  we  are  the  sons  of 
God.  The  proof  of  this  comes  from  the  Holy  Spirit,  because 
it  is  He  Himself  who  cries  out  in  our  hearts :  'Abba,  Father,' 
as  it  was  written  to  the  Galatians.4  It  is  also  a  powerful  proof 
that  we  are  sons  of  God  in  that  we  are  heirs  of  God,  co-heirs 
with  Christ,  and  He  is  co-heir  of  the  one  who  glorifies  Him, 
and  He,  too,  glorifies  him  who  by  suffering  for  Him  suffers 
with  Him.5 

In  order  to  encourage  us  to  suffer,  he  adds  that  all  our 
suffering  is  less  than  and  not  to  be  compared  to  the  great 
reward  of  the  future  blessing  which  will  be  revealed  to  us  in 
return  for  these  hardships,  and  that,  when  we  have  been 
formed  to  the  image  of  God,  we  will  deserve  to  see  His  glory 
face  to  face. 

To  enhance  the  greatness  of  the  future  revelation  he  adds 
that  creation  also  awaits  this  revelation  of  the  sons  of  God, 
being  now  subject  to  vanity,  not  by  its  own  will  but  in  hope, 
for  it  hopes  for  gratitude  from  Christ  for  the  service  which  it 
rendered  Him,  and  because  it  will  itself  be  freed  from  slavery 
to  corruption,  that  it  may  be  taken  up  into  the  liberty  of  the 
glory  of  the  sons  of  God,  so  that  there  will  be  a  single  liberty 
of  creation  and  of  the  sons  of  God  when  their  glory  is 
revealed.  But  now,  while  the  revelation  is  postponed,  every 
creature  groans,  awaiting  the  glory  of  our  adoption  and  re- 
demption, giving  birth  to  that  spirit  of  salvation,  and  wishing 
to  be  freed  from  slavery  to  vanity. 

3  Cf.  Rom.  8.13. 

4  Gal.  4.6. 

5  Cf.  Rom.  8.16,18. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  279 

To  this  the  Apostle  joins  the  groaning  of  the  saints  who 
have  the  first  fruits  of  the  Spirit.  Even  they  groan.  Although 
they  are  saved  by  their  merits,  they  are  compassionate  because 
the  redemption  of  the  world  is  yet  to  come.  For,  while  the 
members  of  their  body  suffer,  how  can  the  other  members, 
although  superior  ones,  not  feel  compassion  for  the  distressed 
members  of  the  one  body? 

For  this  reason,  I  think,  the  Apostle  said  that  at  that  time 
even  the  Son  Himself  will  be  made  subject,  the  one  who 
subjected  all  things  to  Himself.6  Those  who  still  labor  are  not 
yet  made  subject,  and  in  them,  perhaps,  Christ  still  thirsts, 
still  hungers;  in  them  He  is  naked  because  they  still  do  not 
fulfill  the  word  of  God,  they  do  not  put  on  Christ,  who  is  the 
garment  of  believers,  the  cloak  of  the  faithful.  But  those  in 
whom  He  is  weak  still  need  medicine,  and  they  have  not  yet 
become  His  subjects.  It  is  a  subjection  of  strength,  not  of 
weakness.  The  Son  of  God  is  made  subject  in  the  strong  and 
in  those  who  do  the  will  of  God.  He  now  works  more  in 
those  who  do  not  assist  the  laborers  than  He  does  in  those 
who  ask  assistance  for  themselves*  This  is  a  holy  and  true 
interpretation  of  the  subjection  of  the  Lord  Jesus,  who  will 
make  Himself  subject  so  that  God  may  be  all  things  to  all  men. 

We  are  arriving  at  the  Apostle's  meaning.  Let  us  now 
consider  who  those  are  who  have  the  first-fruits  of  the  Spirit.7 
Let  us  then  ask  the  Old  Law  what  it  means  by  the  word 
'first-fruits'  or  'firstlings.'  It  says:  Thou  shalt  not  hold  back 
the  first-fruits  of  the  threshing  floor  and  thy  water,'8  and 
further  on:  'Thou  shalt  offer  the  first-fruits  of  thy  first  pro- 
ducts to  the  house  of  the  Lord  thy  God.'9  Some  are  first- 
fruits;  others  are  tithes.  First-fruits  have  greater  favor  and 

6  Cf.  1  Cor.  15.28. 

7  Cf.  Rom.  8.13. 

8  Exod.  22.29. 

9  Exod.  34.26. 


280  SAINT  AMBROSE 

are  held  in  very  great  reverence.  Abel  was  very  pleasing  since 
without  holding  back  he  offered  his  gift,  a  firstling  of  his 
flock.10  Some  may  wish  to  distinguish  between  first-fruits 
and  firstlings,  that  is,  what  is  born  first,  because  when  the 
seed  has  been  gathered  it  may  be  offered  as  the  very  first- 
fruits  of  the  harvest;  yet,  what  is  taken  first  from  the  harvest 
is  offered  to  the  Lord,  but  that  from  the  threshing  floor 
[is  offered]  to  others.11  Indeed,  the  whole  harvest  of  grain 
seems  to  become  holy  when  the  first-fruits  are  given  as  a 
gift,  but  the  first-fruits  themselves  are  holier  still. 

Likewise,  the  saints  are  the  first-fruits  of  the  Lord,  partic- 
ularly the  Apostles.  God  first  placed  Apostles  in  the  Church 
who  prophesied  many  things  and  preached  the  Lord  Jesus, 
for  they  first  received  Him.12  Simeon  the  Prophet  first  received 
Him;13  Zachary  the  Prophet  received  Him,  and  so  did  his 
son  John;  and  Nathaniel  in  whom  there  was  no  guile,14  who 
was  reclining  under  a  fig  tree;  and  Joseph,  who  was  called 
just,  who  buried  Him.15  These  are  the  first-fruits  of  our  faith, 
although  the  same  nature  but  less  grace  may  be  in  some 
first-fruits  as  in  some  seeds:  'God  is  able  out  of  these  stones 
to  raise  up  children  to  Abraham.'16 

Lo,  you  have  an  example  from  the  Lord  Jesus  Himself.  In 
the  resurrection  of  the  dead  He  is  called  the  first-born  from 
the  dead.17  Yet,  the  Apostle  has  shown  that  the  same  one  is 
the  first-fruit,  in  the  words:  In  Christ  all  are  made  to  live, 

10  Cf.  Gen.  4.4. 

11  Ambrose  makes  a  distinction  between  first-fruits   (primitia)   and  first- 
lings (initia) .  First-fruits  are  taken  from  the  harvest  field;  they  consist 
of  ears  of  corn  and  are  to  be  used  in  asking  favors.  Firstlings  are  from 
the  threshing  floor;   they  are  the  pure  seeds  and  are  to  be  used  in 
rendering  thanks  to  God. 

12  Cf.  1  Cor.  12.28. 

13  Cf.  Luke  2.28. 

14  Cf.  John  L47. 

15  Cf.  Luke  23.53. 

16  Matt.  3.9. 

17  Cf.  Col.  1.18. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  281 

but  each  in  his  own  turn.  Christ  is  the  first-fruits;  then,  they 
who  are  Christ's,  who  have  believed  in  His  coming.'18  The 
same  reality  of  body  is  in  Him  as  in  us,  but  still  He  is  called 
the  first-born  of  the  dead  because  He  arose  first,  and  He  is 
called  the  first-fruits  because  He  is  holier  than  all  fruits,  since 
He  sanctified  the  other  fruits  of  His  union.  He  is  also  the 
firstling  of  those  who  are  in  His  image,  just  as  He  is  the 
image  of  the  invisible  God,19  in  whom,  in  accord  with  the 
divinity,  there  is  nothing  corporeal,  nothing  temporal,  for  He 
is  the  splendor  of  the  Father's  glory,  and  the  image  of  His 
substance.  Our  letter  has  run  to  the  length  of  a  sermon 
while  we  are  endeavoring  to  show  what  are  first-fruits. 

Our  first-fruits  are  the  Apostles,  who  were  chosen  out  of 
all  the  fruits  of  that  time,  to  whom  it  was  said :  'And  greater 
than  these  you  will  do,'20  since  the  grace  of  God  poured  itself 
out  upon  them.  They,  I  say,  groaned  while  they  awaited  the 
redemption  of  the  whole  body,  and  they  still  groan,  because 
of  the  toil  of  many  who  still  waver.  If  a  man  reaches  the 
shore  but  is  still  buffetted  by  waves  around  his  waist,  he 
groans  and  travails  until  he  emerges  entirely.  In  the  same 
way  he  groans  who  is  still  saying  to  us:  'Who  is  weak,  and 
I  am  not  weak?'21 

Let  us  not  be  disturbed  because  it  has  been  so  written: 
'We  who  have  the  first-fruits  of  the  spirit — we  ourselves 
groan  within  ourselves,  waiting  for  the  adoption  as  sons,  the 
redemption  of  our  body.'22  The  meaning  is  clear  why  those 
who  have  the  first-fruits  of  the  spirit  groan  while  they  await 
the  adoption  as  sons.  This  adoption  as  sons  is  the  redemption 
of  the  whole  body.  When  it  is  face  to  face  as  a  son  of  God  it 
will  see  that  divine  and  eternal  good.  The  adoption  as  sons 

18  1  Cor.  15.22. 

19  Cf.  Gal.  1.15. 

20  John  14.12. 

21  2  Cor.  11.29. 

22  Rom.  8.23. 


282  SAINT  AMBROSE 

is  in  the  Church  of  the  Lord  when  the  Spirit  cries:  'Abba, 
Father/  as  you  have  it  said  to  the  Galatians.  But  it  [the 
adoption]  will  be  perfect  when  all  will  rise  in  incorruption,  in 
honor,  and  in  glory,  worthy  to  see  the  face  of  God.  Then 
will  humanity  know  that  it  is  truly  redeemed.  So  the  Apostle 
boasts  in  the  words:  Tor  in  hope  were  we  saved.'23  Hope 
saves,  as  does  faith,  also,  of  which  it  is  said:  Thy  faith  has 
saved  thee.524 

Thus  the  creature  which  is  subject  to  vanity,  not  by  its 
own  will  but  in  hope,  is  saved  by  hope,  as  was  also  Paul,  for, 
although  he  knew  that  it  was  gain  to  die  so  that,  freed  from 
the  body,  he  might  be  with  Christ,  he  remained  in  the  flesh 
for  the  sake  of  those  whom  he  was  gaining  for  Christ.25 
What  is  hope,  if  not  the  awaiting  of  things  to  come?  So  he 
says:  £Hope  that  is  seen  is  not  hope/26  Not  things  seen,  but 
things  unseen,  are  eternal.  Does  anyone  hope  for  what  he  sees? 
We  seem  to  have  what  we  see;  how,  then,  do  we  hope  for 
what  we  have?  So,  none  of  the  things  which  are  hoped  for 
are  seen,  for:  'Eye  has  not  seen,  nor  ear  heard,  what  God 
has  prepared  for  those  who  love  Him.'27 

If  the  unseen  cannot  be  hoped  for,  they  do  not  say  rightly: 
'What  one  sees,  that  he  also  hopes,'  unless  they  say:  'What 
one  sees,  why  should  he  also  hope  for,'  or  what  does  he  wait 
for?  It  is  true  that  we  hope  for  what  we  do  not  see,  and, 
although  it  seems  far  removed  from  us,  we  hope  for  it  in 
patience:  'Hoping  I  hoped  in  the  Lord,  and  he  looked  down 
on  me.'28  For  this  reason  we  hope  patiently,  because  'The 
Lord  is  good  to  those  who  wait  for  him.'29  This  seems  to 


23  Rom.  8.24. 

24  Luke  18.42. 

25  Cf.  Phil.  1.2. 

26  Rom.  8.24, 

27  1  Cor.  2.9. 

28  Ps.  39.2. 

29  Thren.  3.25. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  283 

mean  that  he  returned  by  reason  of  our  patience.  We  expect 
what  we  hope  for  and  do  not  see.  He  does  much  who  hopes 
and  expects  things  which  are  not  seen.  And  because  he  turns 
his  attention  to  that  which  is  everything,  he  continues 
steadfast. 

It  is  aptly  said,  therefore,  regarding  the  power  and  riches 
of  this  world:  'But  hope  that  is  seen  is  not  hope.'30  You 
see  that,  when  one  is  renowned  for  power  and  chariots,  he 
has  no  hope  of  chariots  which  he  sees.  We  do  not  put  our  hope 
in  the  element  of  heaven,  but  in  the  Lord  of  heaven.  A 
Chaldean  astronomer  has  no  hope  in  the  stars  which  he 
studies,  nor  does  the  rich  man  in  his  possessions,  nor  the  miser 
in  his  gain.  But  he  has  hope  who  puts  his  hope  in  Him  whom 
he  does  not  see,  that  is,  in  the  Lord  Jesus,  who  stands  in  our 
midst  and  is  not  seen.31  Finally,  'Eye  has  not  seen,  nor  ear 
heard,  what  the  Lord  has  prepared  for  those  who  love  Him.'32 


53.  Ambrose  to  Horontianus  (c.  387) 

Our  letters  are  forming  a  chain  and  we  seem  to  be  letting 
the  chips  fly  in  the  presence  of  one  another.  I  get  the 
material  for  my  letter-writing  from  your  questioning,  and 
you  get  yours  from  my  explanations. 

You  have  pointed  out  that  you  wonder  of  what  spirit 
it  was  said:  'Because  he  pleads  for  us  with  unutterable 
groaning.51  Let  us  go  on,  so  that  the  reading  will  make  clear 
what  we  are  searching  for:  'But  in  like  manner  the  Spirit 
also  helps  the  weakness  of  our  prayer.'  Does  not  this  seem  to 
be  the  Holy  Spirit,  for  He  is  our  helper,  to  whom  it  is  said: 

30  Rom.  8.24. 

31  Cf.  John  1.26. 

32  1  Cor,  2.9, 

1  Rom.  8.26. 


284  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Thou  art  my  help;  cast  me  not  off,  and  abandon  me  not, 
O  God,  my  Saviour/2 

What  other  spirit  could  teach  Paul  what  to  pray  for?  The 
Spirit  of  Christ  teaches,  as  Christ  also  teaches  His  disciples 
to  pray.3  And,  after  Christ,  who  would  teach  if  not  His  Spirit 
whom  He  Himself  sent  to  teach  and  direct  our  prayers?  We 
pray  with  the  Spirit;  we  pray,  too,  with  the  understanding.4 
In  order  that  the  understanding  be  able  to  pray  well,  the 
Spirit  goes  on  ahead  and  leads  it  on  to  a  level  road,5  so  that 
things  of  the  flesh  or  things  less  or  greater  than  our  strength 
may  not  surprise  it:  'Now  the  manifestation  of  the  Spirit  is 
given  to  everyone  for  profit.'6  Moreover,  it  has  been  written: 
'Seek  the  great  and  the  little  will  be  given  you.  Seek  heavenly 
things  and  those  of  earth  will  be  given/7 

He  wishes  us  to  seek  greater  things,  not  to  linger  among 
earthly  ones.  He  who  allots  to  each  according  as  He  wills8 
knows  what  He  will  give.  Sometimes,  knowing  our  limitations 
of  which  we  are  ignorant,  He  says:  Tou  cannot  now  receive 
this.'  I  pray  for  the  sufferings  of  a  martyr  for  myself — the 
Holy  Spirit  is  willing9 — but  when  He  sees  the  weakness  of 
my  flesh,  fearing  that  while  I  seek  too  great  things  I  may 
lose  the  smaller  ones,  He  says:  'You  cannot  receive  these.' 
What  opportunities  I  have  had,  and  have  been  called  back 
almost  from  the  goal!10  A  good  doctor  knows  what  food  is 
suitable  for  the  state  of  illness,  and  at  what  stage  in  the 

2  Ps.  26,9. 

3  CL  Luke  11.1. 

4  Cf.  1  Cor.  14.15. 

5  Cf.  Ps.  142.10. 

6  1  Cor.  12.7. 

7  Matt.  6.35. 

8  Cf.  1  Cor.  12.11. 

9  Cf.  Matt.  26.41. 

10  The  persecution  of  the  Arian  empress  and  Ambrose's  embassy  to  the 
usurper  Maximus  show  that  Ambrose  was  not  unwilling  to  be  a 
martyr. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  285 

course  of  the  recovery.  Sometimes  the  taking  of  food  brings 
back  good  health,  but  if  one  takes  it  at  the  wrong  time  or 
takes  what  is  not  suitable  he  is  imperiled. 

Therefore,  since  we  do  not  know  what  we  pray  for,  and 
how  we  should  pray,  the  Holy  Spirit  asks  for  us.11  He  is  the 
Spirit  of  Jesus,  our  Advocate.  And  He  asks  with  unspeakable 
groanings,  as  Christ,  too,  grieves  for  us.12  And  God  the  Father 
says:  'My  bowels  are  in  pain.'13  We  read  that  He  was  often 
angry  and  grieved.  He  groans  that  He  may  take  away  our 
sins,  that  He  may  teach  us  to  do  penance.  It  is  a  reverent 
groan,  filled  with  power,  of  which  the  Prophet  says:  'My 
groaning  is  not  hidden  from  thee.'14  He  did  not  hide  like 
Adam,  but  He  said:  'Behold,  I  am  the  shepherd.  But  as  for 
this  flock,  in  what  has  it  been  sinful?  It  is  I  that  have  sinned; 
punish  thou  me/15 

From  this  comes  the  groaning  of  the  Spirit  of  God,  and 
the  groaning  of  the  Prophet,  well-nigh  ineffable  because  it  is 
heavenly.  The  things  that  Paul  heard  in  heaven  were  in- 
effable. Thus,  men  should  not  utter  what  is  hidden  to  men, 
although  known  to  God.  He,  the  searcher  of  our  hearts, 
knows  all  things,  but  He  searches  what  the  Spirit  has  purified. 
Therefore,  God  knows  what  the  Spirit  is  asking  and  what  is 
the  wisdom  of  the  Spirit  which  pleads  for  the  saints,  as  you 
read:  'The  Spirit  also  pleads  for  us.'16  It  is  those  for  whom 
Christ  suffered  and  whom  He  cleansed  with  His  blood  for 
whom  also  the  Spirit  pleads. 

Farewell,  and  as  a  son  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 

11  Cf.  Rom.  8.26. 

12  Cf.  Isa.  53.4. 

13  Jer.  14.9. 

14  Ps.  37.10. 

15  1  Par.  21.17. 

16  Rom.  8.27. 


286  SAINT  AMBROSE 

54.  Ambrose  to  Simplidanus,  greetings1  (c.  386) 

You  remarked  recently  when  we  were  chatting  in  a  way 
characteristic  of  our  long-standing  affection  that  it  pleased 
you  to  have  me  preach  to  my  people  on  some  of  the  writings 
of  the  Apostle  Paul.  Since  his  depth  of  meaning  is  understood 
only  with  difficulty,  he  should  lead  the  one  who  hears  him  to 
lofty  thoughts  and  should  set  on  fire  the  commentator.  In 
some  instances,  in  fact,  the  speaker  engages  in  exegesis  and, 
having  nothing  of  his  own  to  add,  being  anxious  to  say 
something,  fulfills  the  task  of  grammarian  rather  than  exegete. 

I  realize  in  this  complaint  the  result  of  our  old  friendship 
and,  what  is  more,  a  tenderly  fatherly  love  (for  the  passage 
of  time  brings  intimacy,  along  with  many  benefits,  but  a 
father's  love  does  not)  .2  Then,  too,  because  I  feel  that  I  have 
already  done  not  without  spirit  what  you  are  asking,  I  shall 
obey  your  wish,  advised  and  instigated  by  my  own  pattern — 
by  no  means  difficult  for  me.  I  will  not  be  imitating  some 
great  personage,  but  myself,  as  I  return  to  some  of  my  own 
insignificant  practices. 

Now,  as  regards  our  plan,  I  think  that  when  we  express  in 
our  sermons  the  metaphor  and  representation  of  the  happy 
life,  we  have  reached  a  conclusion  which  most  persons",  and 
especially  you,  a  friend,  will  not  find  unsuitable.  Yet  it  is 
more  difficult  not  to  displease  your  judgment  than  that  of 
most  others,  though,  by  your  devotion,  you  lighten  the  weight 
of  your  judgment  and  render  it  much  milder  to  me. 

Yet  the  Epistle,  which  troubled  you  after  you  were  gone, 
has  to  do  with  the  meaning  of  Paul  the  Apostle,  who  says  in 
calling  us  from  slavery  to  liberty:  'You  have  been  bought 
with  a  price;  do  not  become  the  slaves  of  men.'3  In  this  he 

1  The    first    of    four    letters    to    Simplidanus,   Bishop    of    Milan    after 
the  death  of  Ambrose  in  397.  He  was  instrumental  in  the  conversion 
of  St.  Augustine   (Conf.  8.1,2,5) . 

2  Cf.  Conf.  8.2,  where  Augustine  says  that  Ambrose  loved  Simplidanus 
'truly  as  a  father.' 

3  1  Cor.  7.23. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS 


287 


shows  that  our  liberty  consists  in  the  knowledge  of  wisdom. 
This  passage  has  been  pitched  and  tossed  on  a  great  mass  of 
discussion  by  philosophers,  who  say  that  every  wise  man  is 
free,  every  fool  is  a  slave. 

This  was  said  long  before  by  a  son  of  David  in  the  words : 
'A  fool  is  changed  like  the  moon/4  A  wise  man  is  not  shattered 
by  fear,  or  changed  by  power,  or  elated  by  good  fortune,  or 
overwhelmed  by  sadness.  Where  there  is  wisdom  there  are 
strength  of  spirit  and  perseverance  and  fortitude.  The  wise 
man  is  constant  in  soul,  not  deflated  or  elated  by  changing 
events.  He  does  not  toss  like  a  child,  carried  about  by  every 
wind  of  doctrine,  but  remains  perfected  in  Christ,  grounded 
by  charity,  rooted  by  faith.  The  wise  man  is  never  idle  and 
experiences  no  changing  states  of  mind.  But  he  will  shine  like 
the  Sun  of  justice  that  shines  in  the  kingdom  of  His  Father.5 

Let  us  consider  the  source  of  that  philosophy  from  which 
the  patriarchs  drew  their  wisdom  and  learning.  Was  not  Noe 
the  first  to  curse  his  son  when  he  learned  that  Chanaan6  had 
made  fun  of  his  nakedness:  'Cursed  be  Chanaan;  meanest  of 
slaves  shall  he  be  to  his  brethren,'7  and  he  put  as  lords  over 
him  his  brothers,  who  with  wisdom  knew  that  they  should 
respect  their  father's  years. 

Did  not  Jacob,  that  source  of  all  wisdom,  who  by  reason 
of  his  wisdom  was  preferred  to  his  elder  brother,8  pour  an 
abundance  of  this  reasoning  into  the  hearts  of  all?  Although 
the  devoted  father  felt  a  father's  affection  for  both  his  sons, 
he  judged  each  differently  (for  love  is  not  estranged  from 
kinship,  but  judgments  are  formed  according  to  merit). 
Hence,  he  gave  favor  to  one,  pity  to  the  other,  favoring  the 
wise,  but  pitying  the  unwise  because  he  could  not  rise  to 

4  Eccli.  27.12. 

5  Cf.  Matt.  13.43. 

6  Chem. 

7  Gen.  9.25. 

8  Cf.  Gen.  27.29. 


288  SAINT  AMBROSE 

valorous  deeds  by  his  own  strength  or  advance  his  steps  at 
will.  Thus,  he  blessed  him  so  that  he  would  serve  his  brother 
and  be  his  slave,  revealing  how  the  lack  of  wisdom  is  brought 
low  by  servitude,  that  his  slavery  may  be  a  remedy  for  him, 
because  the  foolish  man  cannot  rule  himself,  and  if  he  is 
without  a  guide  he  is  undone  by  his  own  desires. 

After  due  deliberation,  the  devoted  father  made  him  his 
brother's  slave  so  that  he  would  be  guided  by  the  other's 
prudence.  Thus,  to  indiscreet  persons  the  wise  become  as 
rulers  to  guide  by  their  power  the  foolishness  of  the  crowd 
which  they  rule  under  the  guise  of  power,  when  they  bring 
unwilling  subjects  to  obey  those  who  are  more  wise  and  to 
submit  to  the  laws.  So  he  put  a  yoke  on  the  foolish  one  as  on 
an  unruly  man,  and  he  denied  liberty  to  one  who  he  decreed 
must  live  by  his  sword.  He  put  his  brother  over  him  so  that  he 
might  not  sin  by  his  temerity,  but  that,  being  subject  to  his 
authority  and  limitations,  he  might  come  to  repentance. 
Slavery,  you  see,  draws  a  distinction  (some  are  weak  of 
necessity  though  strong  of  purpose,  because  that  is  more 
beautiful  which  is  done  not  of  necessity  but  willingly),  and 
so  he  put  on  him  the  yoke  of  necessity  and  later  secured  for 
him  the  blessing  of  willing  subjection. 

Not  nature  but  foolishness  makes  the  slave.  Not  manumis- 
sion but  learning  makes  a  man  free.  Esau  was  born  free,  but 
he  became  a  slave;  Joseph  was  sold  into  slavery,9  but  he  was 
raised  to  power10  that  he  might  rule  those  who  had  purchased 
him.  Yet  he  did  not  slight  his  obligation  to  work  zealously; 
he  clung  to  the  heights  of  virtue;  he  preserved  the  liberty 
of  innocence,  the  stronghold  of  blamelessness.  So  the  Psalmist 
beautifully  says:  'Joseph  had  been  sold  into  slavery.  They 
had  bound  his  feet  with  fetters.'11  'He  had  been  sold  into 

9  Cf.  Gen.  37.28. 

10  Cf.  Gen.  41.41. 

11  Ps.  104.17,18. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  289 

slavery,'  he  says;  he  did  not  become  a  slave.  They  had  bound 
his  feet,  but  not  his  soul. 

How  is  his  soul  bound  when  he  says:  The  iron  pierced 
his  soul5?12  Although  the  souls  of  others  were  pierced  with  sin 
(iron  is  sin,  because  it  pierces  within),  the  soul  of  blessed 
Joseph  did  not  lie  open  to  sin,  but  pierced  through  sin.  He 
was  not  swayed  by  the  beauty  of  his  mistress5  charms  and  so 
he  did  not  experience  the  flames  of  passion,  for  he  was  aflame 
with  the  greater  flame  of  divine  grace.  Thus,  it  is  said  very 
aptly  of  him:  'Because  the  word  of  the  Lord  burned  him/13 
and  with  this  he  quenched  the  fiery  darts  of  the  Devil. 

How  was  he  a  slave,  the  man  who  showed  the  princes  of 
his  people  how  to  regulate  the  corn  supply,  so  that  they 
knew  beforehand  and  made  provision  for  the  coming  famine? 
Or  was  he  a  slave,  the  man  who  took  possession  of  the  whole 
country  of  Egypt  and  reduced  its  entire  population  to 
slavery?14  This  he  did,  not  in  order  to  put  upon  them  the 
status  of  ignoble  slavery,  but  to  impose  a  tax,  except  upon 
the  property  of  the  priests,  which  remained  free  from  tax 
because  among  the  Egyptians  the  priestly  caste  was  held  in 
reverence. 

A  sale  did  not  make  a  slave  of  him,  though  he  was  sold  to 
traders.  Thinking  in  terms  of  a  price,  you  will  find  many 
who  have  purchased  young  girls  of  unusual  beauty  and, 
being  enamored  of  them,  have  reduced  themselves  to  shameful 
slavery.  The  concubine  of  King  Darius,  Apene,  appeared 
sitting  on  his  right  when  she  took  the  crown  from  his  head 
and  put  it  on  her  own,  and  struck  his  face  with  her  left 
hand.  The  king  gazed  at  her  with  delight  and  smiled  when- 
ever the  woman  smiled  at  him.  But  if  she  showed  contempt 
for  him  he  thought  he  was  unhappy  and  distressed,  and  if  he 

12  Ps.  104.18. 

13  Ps.  104.19. 

14  Cf.  Gen.  47.20. 


290  SAINT  AMBROSE 

lost  his  power  over  her  he  would  speak  soft  words  and  beg 
her  to  be  reconciled  with  him,15 

But  why  do  we  take  great  pains  to  assert  this?  Do  we  not 
ordinarily  see  parents  ransomed  by  their  children  when  they 
have  fallen  into  the  power  of  pirates  or  savage  barbarians? 
Are  the  laws  of  ransom  stronger  than  the  laws  of  nature?  Is 
filial  piety  being  forced  into  slavery?  There  are  merchants  of 
lions,  yet  they  do  not  rule  them,  but  when  they  see  them 
angrily  shake  their  shaggy  masses  from  their  neck16  they  flee 
and  seek  shelter.  The  money  which  purchased  these  masters 
for  them  makes  no  difference,  nor  do  the  auction  tables  on 
which  the  buyer  is  generally  judged  and  sentenced.  The 
agreement  does  not  change  his  condition  of  birth  or  take 
away  the  freedom  of  wisdom.  Many  free  men  are  servants  of 
a  wise  slave  and  he  is  a  wise  slave  who  rules  his  foolish 
masters.17 

Who  do  you  think  is  more  free?  Only  that  wisdom  is 
free  which  sets  the  poor  over  riches  and  makes  slaves  draw 
interest  on  their  masters,  not  drawing  money  as  interest,  but 
wisdom.  That  talent  draws  interest  from  the  Lord's  eternal 
treasury  which  is  never  despoiled  and  whose  gain  is  priceless. 
That  knowledge  draws  as  interest  the  silver  of  heavenly 
speech  of  which  the  Law  says:  Thou  shalt  lend  to  many 
nations  and  thou  shalt  never  borrow.'18  The  Hebrew19  loaned 
to  the  nations;  he  did  not  receive  knowledge  from  the  people, 
but,  instead,  gave  it.  To  him  the  Lord  opened  His  treasury 
to  bedew  the  Gentiles  with  the  water  of  His  speech  and  make 
them  the  prince  of  nations  having  no  prince  above  them. 

The  free  man  is  the  wise  man  who  was  bought  with  the 
price  of  heavenly  speech,  the  gold  and  silver  of  God's  word, 

15  Cf.  3  Esd.  4.29,30. 

16  Cf.  Virgil,  Aeneid  12.7. 

17  Cf.  Prov.  17.2. 

18  Detu,  15.6. 

19  I.e.,  Joseph. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  291 

bought  with  the  price  of  blood  (not  least  important  is  it  to 
know  the  buyer),  bought  with  the  price  of  grace,  for  he 
heard  and  understood  the  one  who  said :  CA11  you  who  thirst, 
come  to  the  waters;  and  you  that  have  no  money,  make 
haste,  buy  and  eat  and  drink.'20 

The  free  man  is  the  warrior  who  sees  a  woman  of  comely 
beauty  and  takes  his  enemy's  wealth  as  booty;  then,  when  he 
is  beset  with  longing  and  finds  her,  he  sells  what  he  does  not 
need,  removes  the  cloak  she  wore  when  she  was  taken,  and 
weds  the  woman  who  is  no  longer  a  slave,  but  free.  He  knows 
that  his  learning  and  wisdom  will  not  make  him  subject  to 
her  slavedom.  Therefore,  the  Law  says:  'She  may  not  be 
sold  for  money,'21  since  nothing  precious  deserves  this.  And 
Job  says:  'Draw  out  wisdom  in  deeper  places.'22  The  topaz 
of  Ethiopia  will  not  be  compared  to  her,  being  reckoned 
more  precious  than  gold  and  silver. 

Not  only  is  the  person  free  who  has  not  fallen  to  the  buyer's 
bid,  nor  seen  the  finger  raised,23  but  that  man  rather  is  free 
who  is  free  within  himself,  free  by  the  law  of  nature,  knowing 
that  the  law  of  nature  has  been  laid  down  by  custom,  not  by 
conditions,  and  that  the  extent  of  man's  duties  harmonizes 
not  with  his  choice  but  with  the  teachings  of  nature.  Would 
that  man  only  seem  free  to  you  who  appeared  as  a  censor 
and  prefect  of  morals?  Scripture  says  very  truly  that  the  poor 
will  rule  over  riches,  and  the  borrowers  over  creditors.24 

Would  that  man  seem  free  in  your  estimation  who  bought 
votes  for  himself  with  money,  standing  more  in  need  of  the 
approval  of  the  populace  than  of  the  opinion  of  the  wise?  Is 
he  free  if  he  is  swayed  by  popular  opinion  and  dreads  the 

20  Isa.  55.1. 

21  Cf.  Deut.  21.10-14. 

22  Job  28.18, 

23  A  reference  to  the  ancient  custom  whereby  one  who  had  purchased  a 
slave  raised  his  finger  as  a  guarantee  of  the  sale. 

24  Cf.  Prov.  22.7. 


292  SAINT  AMBROSE 

whisper  of  the  crowd?  The  freedman  does  not  receive  liberty 
when  the  hand  of  the  lictor  is  laid  on  him.25  I  consider  not 
wealth  but  virtue  as  liberty,  for  it  does  not  bow  to  the  wishes 
of  the  stronger,  and  it  is  laid  hold  of  and  possessed  by  one's 
own  greatness  of  soul  The  wise  man  is  always  free;  he  is 
always  held  in  honor;  he  is  always  master  of  the  laws.  The 
law  is  not  made  for  the  just  but  for  the  unjust.26  The  just 
man  is  a  law  unto  himself  and  he  does  not  need  to  summon 
the  law  from  afar,  for  he  carries  it  enclosed  in  his  heart, 
having  the  law  written  on  the  tablets  of  his  heart,  and  it  is 
said  to  him:  'Drink  water  out  of  thy  own  vessels  and  from 
the  stream  of  thy  own  well'27  What  is  so  close  to  us  as  the 
Word  of  God?  This  is  the  word  on  our  heart  and  on  our  lips 
which  we  behold  not  but  hold. 

The  wise  man  is  free,  since  one  who  does  as  he  wishes  is 
free.  Not  every  wish  is  good,  but  the  wise  man  wishes  only 
that  which  is  good;  he  hates  evil  for  he  chooses  what  is  good. 
Because  he  chooses  what  is  good  he  is  master  of  his  choice 
and  because  he  chooses  his  work  is  he  free.  Then,  because  he 
does  what  he  wishes  the  free  man  is  wise.  The  wise  man  does 
well  everything  that  he  does.  One  who  does  all  things  well  does 
all  things  rightly,  But  one  who  does  all  things  rightly  does 
everything  without  offense,  without  blame,  without  loss  and 
disturbance  within  himself.  And  one  who  does  nearly  every- 
thing without  giving  offense  acts  blamelessly  and  acts  without 
disturbance  to  himself,  without  loss.  He  does  not  act  unwisely 
but  wisely  in  all  things.  One  who  acts  with  wisdom  has 
nothing  to  fear,  for  fear  lies  in  sin.  Where  there  is  no  fear 
there  is  liberty;  where  there  is  liberty  there  is  the  power  of 
doing  what  one  wishes.  Therefore,  only  the  wise  man  is  free. 

25  A  rod,  called  a  festuca,  was  laid  on  the  manumitted  slave  by  a  praetor 
or  lictor. 

26  Ct".  1  Tim.  1.9. 

27  Prov.  5.15. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  293 

One  who  cannot  be  forced  or  held  in  check  is  by  no  means 
a  slave;  the  wise  man  cannot  be  forced  or  forbidden;  a 
slave,  therefore,  is  not  wise.  One  who  does  not  enjoy  what  he 
desires  is  held  in  check.  But  what  does  the  wise  man  desire 
except  what  belongs  to  virtue  and  learning,  without  which  he 
cannot  exist?  These  are  in  him  and  they  cannot  be  torn  from 
him.  If  they  are  torn  away,  then  he  is  no  longer  a  wise  man, 
for  he  is  without  the  habit  of  virtue  and  without  learning,  of 
which  he  defrauds  himself  if  he  is  not  a  willing  broker  of 
virtue.  If  compulsion  is  used  on  him  it  is  clear  that  he  acts 
unwillingly.  In  all  our  deeds  there  are  either  corrections  by 
virtue,  missteps  by  malice,  or  that  which  is  midway  or 
lacking  in  distinction.  The  wise  man  is  not  forced  to  virtue 
but  he  is  a  willing  follower  of  it,  because  in  fleeing  evil  he 
drives  out  all  that  is  pleasing  [to  the  senses]  and  does  not  let 
sleep  overtake  him.  In  what  is  neither  good  nor  evil  he  is  not 
disturbed  so  as  to  be  swayed  to  this  side  and  that  like  the 
common  crowd,  but  his  mind  hangs,  as  it  were,  in  a  perfectly 
balanced  scale.  Thus,  he  leans  neither  entirely  toward  pleasure 
nor  in  the  direction  of  what  he  should  reject,  but,  showing 
moderate  interest,  he  remains  fixed  in  purpose.  Therefore,  it 
appears  that  the  wise  man  does  nothing  unwillingly  nor  by 
force.  If  he  were  a  slave  he  would  be  forced;  therefore,  the 
wise  man  is  free. 

The  Apostle,  too,  declares  this  to  be  true  when  he  says: 
'Am  I  not  free?  Am  I  not  an  apostle?328  Indeed,  he  is  so 
free  that  when  certain  persons  slipped  in  to  spy  on  his 
liberty,  as  he  himself  says,29  he  would  not  yield  in  submission 
for  one  hour,  that  the  truth  of  the  Gospel  might  be  preached. 
As  one  who  did  not  cease  he  preached  willingly.  Where 
there  is  willingness  there  is  the  reward  of  willingness;  where 
there  is  necessity,  there  is  subservience  to  necessity.  Willingness 

28  l  Cor.  9.1. 

29  Cf.  Gal.  2.5. 


294  SAINT  AMBROSE 

is  better,  therefore,  than  necessity.  The  wise  man  must  be 
willing,  the  foolish  man  must  obey  and  serve. 

This  is  the  declaration  of  the  Apostle,  who  says:  'If  I  do 
this  willingly,  I  shall  have  a  reward.  But  if  unwillingly,  it 
is  a  stewardship  that  has  been  entrusted  to  me.530  The  wise 
man  is  given  a  reward,  yet  he  acts  willingly;  therefore, 
according  to  the  Apostle,  the  free  man  is  wise.  Hence,  he 
himself  cries  out:  'For  you  have  been  called  to  liberty;  only 
do  not  use  liberty  as  an  occasion  for  sensuality.'31  He 
separates  the  Christian  from  the  Law  that  he  may  not  seem 
to  fall  under  the  Law  unwillingly.  He  calls  him  to  the  Gospel 
which  they  who  are  willing  preach  and  carry  out.  The  Jew 
is  under  the  Law,  the  Christian  in  the  midst  of  the  Gospel. 
There  is  slavery  under  the  Law,  liberty  in  the  Gospel,  for  in 
it  is  the  understanding  of  wisdom.  Everyone  who  accepts 
Christ  is  wise;  he  who  is  wise  is  free;  every  Christian,  then,  is 
both  free  and  wise. 

The  Apostle  has  taught  me  that  beyond  this  liberty  there  is 
the  liberty  of  being  a  slave:  'For  free  though  I  was,'  he  says, 
CI  made  myself  a  slave  of  all  that  I  might  gain  the  more 
converts.'32  What  lies  beyond  that  liberty  except  to  have  the 
spirit  of  grace,  to  have  charity?  Liberty  makes  us  free  before 
men,  charity  a  friend  before  God.  Therefore  Christ  said :  'But 
I  have  called  you  friends.'33  Charity  is  good  and  of  it  is  said: 
'By  the  charity  of  the  Spirit  serve  one  another.'34  Christ,  too, 
was  a  servant  so  that  He  might  make  all  men  free.  'His  hands 
have  served  in  the  basket.'35  He  who  did  not  think  it  robbery 
to  be  equal  with  God  took  the  nature  of  a  slave,36  and  He 

30  1  Cor.  9.17. 

31  GaL  5.13. 

32  1  Cor.  8.19. 

33  John  15.15. 

34  Gal.  5.13. 

35  Ps.  80.7. 

36  Cf.  Phil.  2.6. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  295 

became  all  things  to  all  men  to  bring  salvation  to  all.37  Paul, 
an  imitator  of  Him,  as  if  he  was  under  the  Law  and  lived  as 
if  outside  the  Law,  spent  his  life  for  the  advantage  of  those 
whom  He  wished  to  gain.  He  willingly  became  weak  for  the 
weak  in  order  to  strengthen  them;  he  ran  the  race  to  overtake 
them;  he  chastised  his  body  to  triumph  in  Christ  over  natures 
of  bronze.38 

A  wise  man,  though  he  be  a  slave,  is  at  liberty;  and  from 
this  it  follows  that,  though  a  fool  rule,  he  is  in  slavery,  and, 
what  is  worse,  though  he  have  care  of  a  very  few,  he  is  slave 
to  more  and  harsher  masters.  For  he  is  slave  to  his  passions; 
he  is  slave  to  his  own  wishes;  he  cannot  escape  his  rulers 
night  or  day  because  he  has  these  rulers  within  him;  within 
he  suffers  unbearable  slavery.  Slavery  is  twofold,  one  of  the 
body  and  the  other  of  the  soul,  men  being  masters  of  the  body, 
but  sin  and  passion  masters  of  the  soul,  and  from  these  only 
liberty  of  spirit  frees  a  man  so  that  he  is  delivered  from  his 
servitude. 

Let  us  look  for  that  truly  wise  man,  the  truly  free  man, 
who,  although  he  lives  under  the  rule  of  many,  says  freely: 
'Who  is  he  that  will  plead  against  me?  Do  thou  alone  with- 
draw thy  hand  from  me,  and  from  thy  face  I  will  not  be 
able  to  hide;  and  let  not  thy  dread  terrify  me.539 

King  David  following  him  said:  'Against  thee  only  have  I 
sinned.'40  In  his  regal  position,  like  the  lord  of  laws  he  was 
not  subject  to  laws,  but  he  was  guilty  before  God  who  alone  is 
Lord  of  hosts. 

Listen  to  another  free  man:  'But  with  me  it  is  a  very 
small  matter  to  be  judged  by  you  or  by  man's  tribunal.  Nay, 
I  do  not  even  judge  my  own  self.  For  I  have  nothing  on  my 

37  Cf.  1  Cor.  9.22. 

38  See  Plato  Resp.  3.415  A-C,  for  the  allusion  to  men  of  gold,  of  silver, 
and  of  bronze. 

39  Job  13.19-21. 

40  Ps.  50.6. 


296  SAINT  AMBROSE 

conscience  ...  but  he  who  judges  me  is  the  Lord.'41  True 
liberty  belongs  to  the  spiritual  man,  for  he  judges  all  things, 
but  is  himself  judged  by  no  one/2  not  by  anyone  who  shares 
his  created  nature.  He  knows  that  he  is  subject  to  God  alone, 
who  alone  is  without  sin,  of  whom  Job  says:  'God  liveth, 
who  so  judges  me/43  for  He  alone  can  judge  the  just  man  in 
whose  sight  the  heavens  are  not  pure,  nor  the  lights  of  the 
stars  shining  and  clear. 

Who  is  he  who  puts  into  the  midst  of  Sophocles'  play 
those  verses  which  say:  'Jupiter  is  over  me  but  no  man'? 
How  much  more  ancient  is  Job,  how  much  more  aged  is 
David?  They  should  know  that  they  have  drawn  their  ex- 
cellent sayings  from  our  writers.44 

Is  a  man  wise  if  he  does  not  reach  the  secrets  of  the 
Godhead  and  learn  the  hidden  things  of  wisdom  revealed  to 
him?  He  alone  is  wise,  then,  who  uses  as  his  guide  God  to 
search  out  the  lair  of  truth,  and  although  a  mortal  he  becomes 
the  heir  of  His  immortal  God,  successor  by  grace  and  par- 
taker of  His  joy,  as  it  is  written:  'Therefore  God,  thy  God, 
has  anointed  thee  with  the  oil  of  gladness  above  thy  fellows.'45 

If  one  looks  into  this  state  of  affairs  more  closely  he  will 
learn  how  great  are  the  advantages  to  the  wise  and  how 
great  the  hindrances  to  the  unwise,  because  to  the  former 
liberty  is  a  help,  to  the  latter  servitude  is  a  hindrance.  The 
wise  man  emerges  as  a  victor  over  those  who  warred  with 
him,  triumphing  over  lust,  fear,  cowardice,  gloom  and  other 
vices,  until  he  puts  them  out  of  the  hold  of  his  mind  and 
beats  them  back  and  shuts  them  from  his  boundaries  and  his 
lands.  Like  a  careful  leader  he  knows  he  should  beware  of 
the  onrush  of  brigands  and  certain  strategies  of  war  by  means 

41  I  Cor.  4.3,4. 

42  Cf.  1  Cor.  2.15. 

43  Job  27.2. 

44  Cf.  Letter  81  for  this  same  thought. 

45  Ps.  44.8. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  297 

of  which  hostile  enemies  of  the  soul  often  throw  flaming 
arrows.46  For  we  have  certain  battles  in  time  of  peace  and 
peace  in  time  of  war.  So  he  also  says:  'Conflicts  without, 
anxieties  within.'47  'But  in  all  these  we  overcome  because  of 
him  who  loved  us.'48  And  he  says  he  is  frightened  neither  by 
troubles,  nor  persecutions,  nor  hunger,  nor  danger,  nor  death. 

Is  a  man  not  a  slave  if  he  shudders  at  these  [trials]  and  is 
fearful  of  death?  Surely  he  is  a  slave,  and  his  state  of  slavery 
is  pitiable.  Nothing  so  reduces  the  soul  to  total  slavery  as  does 
the  fear  of  death.  How  will  that  mind  raise  itself  which  is 
cast  down,  poor  and  debased,  if  it  has  been  given  over  to  a 
whole  whirlpool  of  weakness  by  its  longing  for  this  life?  See 
how  the  slave  says:  CI  shall  hide  myself,  and  I  shall  be 
mourning  and  fearful  on  earth,  and  it  will  happen  that  who- 
soever finds  me  will  kill  me.'49  Then,  like  a  slave,  he  received 
a  mark  and  he  could  not  escape  death.  Thus  is  the  sinner  a 
slave  to  fear,  a  slave  to  desire,  a  slave  to  greed,  a  slave  to 
lust,  a  slave  to  sin,  a  slave  to  anger,  and,  though  such  a  man 
appears  to  himself  free,  he  is  more  a  slave  than  if  he  were 
under  tyrants. 

The  free  are  those  who  abide  by  the  laws.  True  law  is  a 
direct  statement,  true  law  is  not  carved  on  tablets,  nor  in- 
scribed on  bronze,  but  stamped  on  the  mind  and  imprinted 
in  the  senses.  Since  a  wise  man  is  not  under  the  law  he  is  a 
law  to  himself,  for  he  carries  the  law  in  his  heart  in  a  mode 
of  expression  natural  to  himself  and  embellished  with  a  sort 
of  heading.  Is  our  blindness  such  that  we  do  not  see  very 
evident  declarations  of  ideas  and  examples  of  virtues?  How 
degrading  it  is  that  respectable  men  obey  human  laws  that 
they  may  share  freedom,  yet  the  wise  cast  aside  and  abandon 

46  furta  belli.  Cf.  Virgil,  Aen.  11.515. 

47  Cf.  2  Cor.  7.5. 

48  Rom.  8.37. 

49  Gen.  4.14. 


298  SAINT  AMBROSE 

the  true  law  of  nature,  though  they  are  made  to  the  image  of 
God  and  bear  the  true  mark  of  freedom.  So  great  is  this 
freedom  that  as  children  we  do  not  know  how  to  be  slaves 
to  vice,  we  are  strangers  to  anger,  we  are  free  from  greed, 
unacquainted  with  lust.  How  sad  it  is  that  we  who  are  born 
in  freedom  die  in  slavery ! 

This  comes  from  inconstancy  and  weakness  of  character, 
for  we  are  concerned  over  foolish  worries  and  spend  ourselves 
uselessly.  The  wise  man's  heart,  his  acts,  his  work  must  be 
deeply  rooted  and  immovable.  Moses  gave  this  instruction 
when  his  hands  became  so  heavy  that  Josue  the  son  of  Nun 
could  scarcely  hold  them  up.50  Yet  the  people  won  a  victory 
because,  although  the  work  they  did  was  not  important,  it 
was  full  of  meaning  and  courage,  not  done  with  a  sense  of 
wavering  or  unsteady  purpose,  but  with  the  constancy  of  a 
well-grounded  intention.  The  wise  man  stretches  out  his 
hands,  the  fool  draws  them  in,  as  it  is  written:  The  fool 
foldeth  his  hands  together,  and  eateth  his  own  flesh/51  for  he 
thinks  more  of  the  body  than  of  the  spirit.  Was  it  not  a 
daughter  of  Juda  who  called  to  the  Lord  with  outstretched 
hands:  'Thou  knowest  that  they  have  borne  false  witness 
against  me.'52  She  thought  it  was  better  not  to  sin  and  to  fall 
into  the  snare  of  her  accusers  rather  than  to  sin  under  the 
cloak  of  impunity.  By  despising  death  she  preserved  her 
innocence.  And  was  it  not  the  daughter  of  Jephte  who  by  her 
own  encouraging  words  confirmed  her  father's  vow  to 
immolate  her?53 

For  contempt  of  death  I  do  not  draw  on  the  books  of  the 
philosophers,  or  the  ascetics  of  India,  and  the  highly  praised 
answer  which  Calanus  gave  Alexander  when  he  told  him  to 

50  Cf.  Exod.  17.12. 

51  Eccle.  4.5. 

52  Dan.  13,43. 

53  Cf.  Judges  11.36-38. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  299 

follow  him:  cOf  what  kind  of  praise  do  I  seem  worthy, 
if  you  ask  me  to  return  to  Greece  and  I  can  be  com- 
pelled to  do  what  I  do  not  want  to  do?  Your  words  are 
truly  filled  with  authority,  but  my  mind  is  more  filled  with 
liberty.'  Then  he  wrote  this  letter. 

Calanus  to  Alexander:54  'Friends  who  do  not  see  our  works 
in  their  visions  are  bidding  you  lay  hands  and  force  on  the 
Indian  philosophers.  You  will  move  their  bodies  from  place 
to  place,  you  will  not  force  their  souls  to  do  what  they  do 
not  wish  any  more  than  you  will  force  rocks  and  trees  to 
speak.  A  huge  fire  burns  pain  into  living  bodies  and  causes 
destruction;  we  are  above  this,  we  are  consumed  alive.  There 
is  no  king  or  leader  who  can  torture  us  to  do  what  we  have 
not  planned.  We  are  not  like  the  philosophers  of  Greece  who 
plan  their  pronouncements  on  events,  looking  to  the  fame  of 
their  opinion;  we  keep  a  relation  between  words  and  deeds. 
Events  are  swift;  words  are  short-lived;  our  freedom  is  blessed 
in  virtue.' 

Famous  words,  but  mere  words!  Brilliant  firmness  of  pur- 
pose, but  from  a  man!  A  brilliant  letter,  but  from  a 
philosopher!  Among  us,  even  maidens  climb  the  steps  of 
virtue  mounting  to  the  very  sky  with  their  longing  for  death. 
What  need  to  mention  Thecla,  Agnes,  and  Pelagia,  who 
produced  noble  offspring,  rushing  to  their  death  as  if  to 
immortality?  Amid  lions  the  maidens  frolicked  and  fearlessly 
gazed  on  roaring  beasts.  Let  us  compare  our  examples  with 
those  ascetics  of  India :  blessed  Lawrence  proved  by  his  deeds 
what  he  had  boasted  in  words,  that  when  he  was  being  burned 
alive,  surviving  the  flames,  he  said:  'Turn  me  and  eat  me.' 
Not  unworthy  of  the  daughter  of  Abraham  was  the  struggle 
of  the  sons  of  the  Machabees:55  some  chanted  above  the 
flames,  others,  while  being  burned  alive,  asked  not  to  be 

54  See  Plutarch,  Alex. 

55  Cl  2  Mach.  7.5-41. 


300  SAINT  AMBROSE 

spared,  but  they  were  so  carried  away  that  the  persecutor 
was  the  more  inflamed  with  anger.  The  wise  man  was  free. 

What  example  is  more  sublime  than  blessed  Pelagia,  who, 
when  she  was  overwhelmed  by  her  persecutors,  said  before 
she  went  into  their  presence:  1  die  willingly,  no  one  will  lay 
a  hand  on  me,  no  one  will  harm  my  virginity  with  his 
shameless  glance,  I  shall  take  with  me  my  purity  and  my 
modesty  unsullied.  These  robbers  wiU  have  no  reward  for  their 
brazenness.  Pelagia  will  follow  Christ,  no  one  will  take  away 
her  freedom,  no  one  will  see  her  freedom  of  faith  taken  away, 
nor  her  remarkable  purity,  the  product  of  wisdom.  That 
which  is  servile  will  remain  here,  bound  for  no  use.'  Great 
was  the  freedom  of  that  pious  maiden  who,  though  she  was 
hedged  in  by  lines  of  persecutors  with  utmost  danger  to  her 
purity  and  life,  was  in  no  way  shaken. 

The  man  who  is  ruled  by  anger  is  also  bound  by  the  yoke 
of  sin.  The  man  who  is  easily  stirred  to  wrath  has  dug  up 
sin;56  'whoever  commits  sin  is  a  slave  of  sin.'57  He  is  not  free 
who  is  a  slave  to  greed,  for  he  cannot  possess  his  own  vessel. 
He  is  not  free  who,  serving  his  own  needs  and  pleasures, 
wavers  on  straying  bypaths.  He  is  not  free  who  is  warped  by 
ambition,  for  he  is  a  slave  to  another's  power.  But  he  is  free 
who  can  say:  'All  things  are  lawful  to  me,  but  not  all  things 
are  expedient.  All  things  are  lawful  for  me,  but  I  will  not  be 
brought  under  the  power  of  anyone.  Food  for  the  belly,  and 
the  belly  for  food.'58  He  is  free  who  says:  'Why  is  our  liberty 
judged  by  the  unbeliever's  knowledge?' 

Liberty  suits  the  wise,  not  the  unwise,  for  one  who  wraps  a 
stone  in  a  hurling  machine  is  like  the  man  who  gives  honor 
to  a  fool.  He  hurts  himself  and  brings  more  danger  to  himself 
as  he  throws  the  javelin.  As  the  harm  of  a  stone  is  increased 

56  Prov.  29.22   (Septuagint)  , 

57  John  8.34. 

58  Ct.  I  Cor.  6.12,13, 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  301 

by  the  engine  of  war  and  is  doubled  by  its  fall,  so,  too,  is  the 
downfall  of  the  fool  in  freedom  more  violent.  The  power  of 
the  fool  must  be  curtailed,  his  liberty  should  not  be  increased, 
because  slavery  fits  him.  Thus,  Proverbs  added :  'Thorns  grow 
in  the  hand  of  a  drunkard,  so  slavery  in  the  hand  of  a  fool.'59 
As  the  drunkard  is  hurt  by  his  drinking,  so  is  the  fool  by  his 
deeds.  The  one  plunges  himself  into  sin  by  drinking,,  the 
other  convicts  himself  by  his  work  and  is  dragged  into  slavery 
by  his  deeds.  Paul  saw  himself  dragged  into  bondage  by  the 
law  of  sin,60  but  in  order  to  be  freed  he  took  refuge  in  the 
grace  of  freedom. 

Fools  are  not  free;  it  is  said  to  them:  'Be  not  like  the 
horse  and  the  mule,  which  have  no  understanding.  Control 
with  bridle  and  bit  the  jaws  of  those  who  come  near  thee. 
Many  are  the  blows  of  the  wicked.'61  Many  blows  are 
necessary  that  their  wickedness  be  controlled;  training,  not 
harshness,  exacts  this.  Besides,  £He  that  spareth  the  rod  hateth 
his  son/62  since  each  one  is  punished  more  heavily  for  his 
sins.  The  weight  of  sin  is  heavy,  the  stripes  for  crimes  are 
heavy;  they  weigh  like  a  heavy  burden;  they  leave  scars  upon 
the  soul  and  make  the  wounds  of  the  mind  fester.63 

Let  us  lay  aside  the  heavy  load  of  slavery,  let  us  give  up 
wantonness  and  pleasures  which  bind  us  with  chains  of  desires 
and  restrain  us  with  their  ties.  Pleasures  do  not  help  the  fool, 
and  one  who  gives  himself  to  pleasure  from  childhood  will 
remain  in  slavery,  so  that,  although  alive,  he  is  dead.  There- 
fore, let  wantonness  be  cut  out,  let  pleasures  be  removed;  if 
anyone  has  been  wanton  let  him  say  farewell  to  the  past.  The 
pruned  vine  brings  forth  fruit,  the  half-pruned  grows,  the 
neglected  grows  wild.  So  it  is  written :  like  a  man  careless  of 

59  Cf.  Prov.  26.8,9. 

60  Cf.  Rom.  7.23. 

61  Ps.  31.9,10. 

62  Prov.  13.24. 

63  Cf.  Ps.  37.5,6. 


302  SAINT  AMBROSE 

his  field  is  the  unwise  man,  like  a  man  careless  of  his  vineyard 
is  the  man  bereft  of  reason;  if  you  abandon  it,  it  will  be 
deserted.564  Let  us  cultivate  this  body  of  ours,  let  us  chastise 
it,  let  us  reduce  it  to  slavery,  let  us  not  underestimate  it. 

Our  limbs  are  means  o!  righteousness;  they  are  also  the 
means  of  sin.  If  they  are  raised,  they  are  the  means  of  justice 
so  that  sin  does  not  rule  them;  but,  if  the  body  is  dead  to  sin, 
blame  will  not  reign  over  it,  and  our  limbs  will  be  free  from 
sin.  Let  us  not  obey  its  desires,  nor  give  our  limbs  to  sin  as 
the  weapons  of  injustice.  If  you  look  at  a  woman  to  covet 
her,  your  limbs  are  the  weapons  of  sin.  If  you  speak  to  her  in 
order  to  harass  her,  your  tongue  and  your  mouth  are  the 
weapons  of  sin.  If  you  remove  the  boundary  stones  laid  down 
by  your  ancestors,  your  limbs  are  the  weapons  of  sin.  If  you 
run  with  hurried  steps  to  shed  the  blood  of  innocent  people, 
your  limbs  are  the  weapons  of  evil. 

On  the  contrary,  if  you  see  the  needy  and  bring  him  home, 
your  limbs  are  the  weapons  of  justice.  If  you  snatch  up  one 
who  is  being  led  to  death,  if  you  tear  up  the  debtor's  bond, 
your  limbs  are  the  weapons  of  justice.  If  you  confess  Christ 
(the  lips  of  the  wise  are  weapons  of  the  intellect*5 ) ,  your 
lips  are  weapons  of  justice.  Whoever  can  say :  'I  was  an  eye 
to  the  blind,  a  foot  to  the  lame,  the  father  of  the  poor,'66  his 
limbs  are  limbs  of  justice. 

Let  us  who  are  free  from  sin,  purchased,  as  it  were,  by 
the  price  of  Christ's  blood,  let  us  not  be  subject  to  the  slavery 
of  men  or  of  passion.  Let  us  not  be  ashamed  to  confess  our  sin. 
See  how  free  the  man  who  could  say :  *I  have  not  been  afraid 
of  a  very  great  multitude,  so  that  I  would  not  confess  my  sin 
in  the  sight  of  all.'67  One  who  confesses  to  the  Lord  is  freed 

64  Prov.  24.30. 

65  Cf.  Prov.  14.7. 

66  Job  29.15,16. 

67  Job  31.34. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  303 

from  his  slavery:  'The  just  is  the  accuser  of  himself  in  the 
beginning  of  his  speech.'68  He  is  not  only  free  but  just,  for 
justice  is  in  liberty,  and  liberty  in  confession,  and  as  soon  as 
one  has  confessed  he  is  pardoned.  To  conclude:  'I  said  "I 
will  confess  my  iniquity  to  the  Lord,"  and  thou  didst  forgive 
the  guilt  of  my  heart.'69  The  delay  of  absolution  is  in  the 
confession,  the  remission  of  sin  follows  confession.  He  is 
wise  who  confesses,  he  is  free  whose  sins  are  forgiven  and  he 
trails  no  clouds  of  sin. 

Farewell,  and  love  us  as  you  do,  because  I  also  love  you. 


55.  Ambrose  to  Simplicianus,  greetings  (c.  386) 

We  seem  to  have  become  involved  in  a  philosophic  debate 
when,  taking  the  text  of  the  Apostle  Paul's  Epistle,  we 
discussed  the  statement:  'every  wise  man  is  free.'  Later, 
however,  when  I  was  reading  the  Epistle  of  Peter  the  Apostle, 
I  noticed  that  every  wise  man  is  also  rich.  And  he  does  not 
exclude  the  other  sex,  for  he  says  that  women  do  not  have 
all  their  wealth  in  jewels,  but  in  the  good  dispositions  of  the 
heart:  'Let  not  theirs  be  the  outward  adornment  of  braiding 
the  hair,  or  of  wearing  gold,  or  of  putting  on  robes;  but  let 
it  be  the  inner  life  of  the  heart.'1 

Those  two,  namely,  the  man  of  inner  life  and  the  rich 
man,  require  no  use  of  riches  for  themselves.  He  has  men- 
tioned very  beautifully  'the  inner  life  of  the  heart*  because 
the  whole  man  of  wisdom  is  hidden,  just  as  wisdom  herself  is 
unseen  but  understood.  No  one  before  Peter  used  such  an 
expression  in  speaking  of  the  man  of  inner  life.  The  exterior 

68  Prov.  18.17. 

69  Ps.  31.5. 


1  1  Peter  3.3,4. 


304  SAINT  AMBROSE 

man  has  many  parts  in  him;  the  interior  man  is  filled  with 
wisdom,  with  favors,  with  beauty, 

'In  the  imperishableness  of  a  quiet  and  gentle  spirit,'  he 
says,  'which  is  of  great  price  in  the  sight  of  God/2  he  is 
truly  rich  who  can  appear  rich  in  the  sight  of  God,  under 
whose  gaze  the  earth  is  a  miniature  and  the  universe  itself 
small  God  alone  knows  the  man  of  possessions,  the  one  rich 
in  immortality,  the  one  storing  up  the  fruit  of  virtues,  not 
riches.  What  is  so  rich  in  God's  sight  as  the  peaceful  and 
modest  spirit  which  is  never  disturbed?  Does  not  that  man 
appear  to  be  rich  who  has  peace  of  soul,  the  tranquility  of 
repose,  so  that  he  longs  for  nothing,  is  stirred  by  no  storm  of 
passion,  tires  not  of  the  old,  seeks  the  new,  and  always  by 
desire  becomes  poor  in  the  midst  of  the  greatest  riches? 

Truly  that  is  a  rich  peace  which  surpasses  all  understand- 
ing,3 A  rich  peace,  a  rich  dignity,  a  rich  faith:  The  faithful 
man  has  the  whole  world  for  his  possession';4  it  is  a  rich 
simplicity,  for  those  are  riches  of  a  simplicity  which  nothing 
scatters,  which  entertain  no  despondent  thought,  or  suspicious 
or  fraudulent  one,  but  pours  itself  out  with  pure  affection. 

There  is  a  rich  excellence  upon  which  one  feeds  if  he  has 
saved  the  heavenly  riches  of  his  inheritance.  To  use  the 
older  examples  from  Scripture,  he  says:  'Blessed  is  the  man 
whom  the  Lord  correcteth:  refuse  not  therefore  the  chastising 
of  God.  In  famine  he  shall  deliver  thee  from  death;  and  in 
battle,  from  the  hand  of  the  sword.  He  shall  hide  thee  from 
the  scourge  of  the  tongue.  Thou  shalt  not  be  afraid  of  wild 
beasts  and  thou  shalt  know  that  thy  house  will  be  in  peace/5 
When  you  have  subdued  the  body's  sins  and  passions  which 
war  against  the  spirit,  your  habitation  will  be  free  from 

2  Ibid. 

3  Cf.  Phil.  4.7. 

4  Prov.  17.6  (Septuagint) . 

5  Job  5.17,20-24. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  305 

trouble,  your  house  will  have  no  stumbling  block,  your  seed 
will  not  be  fruitless,  your  descendants  will  be  like  the  smell  of 
a  plentiful  field,6  your  place  of  burial  will  be  a  harvest. 
Indeed,  when  others  realize  that  their  fruits  have  failed,  then 
will  the  heap  of  your  ripe  grain  be  brought  to  the  heavenly 
storerooms. 

The  righteous  always  gain  rewards;  the  unjust  go  begging. 
The  one  gains  righteousness;  he  gains  God's  command  to 
the  poor  and  needy.  But  the  fool  does  not  own  even  what  he 
thinks  he  has.  Does  he  possess  riches,  do  you  think,  if  he 
broods  over  his  wealth  day  and  night  and  is  tormented  by  a 
wretched  miser's  worries?  He  is  actually  in  need;  although 
he  appears  wealthy  in  the  opinion  of  others,  he  is  poor  in  his 
own.  He  makes  no  use  of  what  he  has,  but,  while  grasping 
one  thing,  he  longs  for  another.  What  enjoyment  of  riches  is 
there  when  there  is  no  limit  to  one's  longing?  No  one  is  rich 
if  he  cannot  take  from  this  life  what  he  has,  because  what  is 
left  here  is  not  ours  but  another's. 

Henoch  was  rich,  for  he  took  away  with  him  what  he  had 
and  carried  all  his  wealth  of  blessing  in  heavenly  vessels,7  and 
'He  was  taken  away  lest  wickedness  should  alter  his  heart/8 
Elias  was  rich,  for  he  drove  aloft  to  the  heavenly  abodes 
carrying  the  treasury  of  his  virtues  in  a  fiery  chariot.9  Even 
he  has  left  no  small  wealth  to  his  heir,  while  he  himself  lost 
none  of  it.  Would  anyone  call  him  a  pauper  either  then  or 
when  he  was  sent  to  the  widow  to  be  fed  by  her,  when  he 
himself  needed  food  for  his  daily  sustenance?  When  at  his 
prayer  heaven  was  opened  and  shut?  When  at  his  word  the 
pot  of  meal  and  cruet  of  oil  did  not  fail  for  three  years,  but 
abounded,  for  it  was  not  diminished  but  replenished  by  use?10 

6  Cf.  Gen.  27.27. 

7  Cf.  Gen.  5.21-24. 

8  Wisd.  4.11. 

9  Cf.  4  Kings  2.11. 
10  Cf.  3  Kings  17.9-16. 


306  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Would  anyone  call  him  poor  at  whose  wish  fire  came  down 
[from  heaven]/1  and  rivers  which  he  approached  did  not 
close  in  on  him,12  but  went  back  to  their  source,  letting  the 
Prophet  cross  with  dry  feet? 

An  ancient  story  tells  of  the  two  neighbors,13  King  Achab 
and  a  poor  man  Naboth.  Which  of  these  do  we  consider  the 
poorer,  which  the  richer:  the  one  who  had  been  endowed 
with  a  king's  measure  of  wealth,  insatiable  and  unsatisfied 
with  his  wealth,  who  longed  for  the  little  vineyard  of  the  poor 
man;  or  the  other,  heartily  despising  a  'king's  fortune  of 
much  gold3  and  imperial  wealth,  who  was  satisfied  with  his 
vineyard?  Does  he  not  seem  richer  and  more  a  king,  since  he 
had  enough  for  himself  and  regulated  his  desires  so  that  he 
wanted  nothing  which  belonged  to  others?  But  was  he  not 
very  poor  whose  gold  was  of  no  account,  while  he  considered 
the  other's  vines  of  priceless  value?  Understand  why  he  was 
so  very  poor:  because  riches  amassed  unjustly  are  disgorged,14 
but  the  root  of  the  righteous  remains,1*  and  flourishes  like  a 
palm  tree.16 

Is  he  not  more  in  need  than  the  poor  man  who  passes 
away  like  a  shadow?17  The  wicked  man  is  praised  today; 
tomorrow  he  will  not  exist  nor  will  any  trace  of  him  be 
found.18  What  does  being  rich  mean  except  'spreading  out,' 
'overflowing'?  Is  he  rich  who  is  depressed  in  soul?  Is  not  one 
so  depressed  held  in  confinement?  In  confinement  what  over- 
flowing is  possible?  He  is  not  rich  who  does  not  overflow.  So 
David  very  aptly  says:  'The  powerful  have  become  poor  and 

11  Ct  4  Kings  1.14. 

12  Cf.  4  Kings  2.8. 

13  Cf.  3  Kings  21.1-16. 

14  C£.  Job  20.15. 

15  Cf.  Prov.  12.12. 

16  Cf.  Ps.  91.13. 

17  Cf.  Ps.  143.4. 

18  Cf.  Ps.  36.35,36. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  307 

have  huitgered,'19  because,  when  men  have  the  treasures  of 
the  heavenly  Scriptures  and  do  not  have  understanding,  they 
become  poor,  they  become  hungry. 

There  is  nothing  richer  than  the  wise  man's  condition, 
nothing  poorer  than  the  fool's.  Since  the  kingdom  of  God 
belongs  to  the  poor,20  what  can  be  richer  than  that?  And  the 
Apostle,  too,  says  brilliantly:  'Oh,  the  depths  of  the  riches  of 
the  wisdom  and  of  the  knowledge  of  God.'21  Brilliantly,  too, 
David  rejoiced  in  the  way  of  divine  precepts  as  if  he  were 
amid  all  riches.22  In  definite  terms,  too,  does  Moses  rejoice 
who  says:  'Nephthali  will  be  among  those  who  receive 
abundance.'23  Nephthali  is  interpreted  in  Latin  as  'abundance' 
or  'diffusion.'  Therefore,  where  there  is  abundance,  there  is  a 
sufficiency;  where  there  is  the  hunger  of  desire,  there  is 
unfulfilled  longing;  there,  in  fact,  is  poverty.  Then,  because 
there  is  scarcely  a  desire  for  money  or  things  of  this  world 
which  reaches  satisfaction,  he  adds :  'And  he  will  be  filled  with 
blessing.'24 

In  these  terms  the  Apostle  Peter  showed  that  women's 
ornament  consists  not  in  gold  and  silver  and  garments,  but  in 
the  inner  and  hidden  life  of  the  heart.25  Let  no  woman, 
therefore,  lay  aside  the  garb  of  piety,  the  adornment  of  grace, 
the  inheritance  of  everlasting  life. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 

19  Ps.  33.11. 

20  Cf.  Matt.  5.3. 

21  Rom.  11.33. 

22  Cf.  Ps.  118.14. 

23  Deut.  33.23. 

24  Ibid. 

25  1  Peter  3.3,4. 


308  SAINT  AMBROSE 

56.  Ambrose  to  Simplicianus,  greetings1 

You  tell  me  that  you  were  perplexed  over  the  meaning 
when  you  read  that  Moses,  after  offering  sacrifice  and 
immolating  sacred  victims  to  the  Lord,  put  half  of  the  blood 
into  bowls  and  sprinkled  the  rest  on  the  altar.2  But  what 
causes  you  to  be  perplexed  and  ask  my  help,  when  you  have 
traveled  the  whole  world  to  acquire  faith  and  divine  knowl- 
edge, and  in  constant  reading  day  and  night  have  spent  the 
whole  span  of  your  life?  With  remarkably  brilliant  intellect 
you  have  embraced  all  objects  of  the  understanding,  so  that 
you  are  able  to  show  how  the  works  of  the  philosophers  have 
deviated  from  the  truth,  several  being  so  futile  that  the  words 
in  their  writings  have  perished  in  their  lifetime. 

Yet,  because  it  is  of  great  profit  to  exchange  talk,  as  it  is  to 
exchange  money,  whereby  great  progress  is  made  in  furthering 
the  common  good  of  trade,  I  cannot  refrain  from  saying  how 
wonderful  is  the  division  of  blood  of  which  you  speak.  Part 
seems  to  signify  the  moral  training,  part  the  mystical  training 
of  wisdom.  The  part  put  into  vessels  is  moral,  that  sprinkled 
upon  the  altar  is  mystical,  because  it  is  granted,  by  the  favor 
and  inspiration  of  heaven,  that  human  minds  conceive  fitting 
ideas  of  God,  ideas  filled  with  faith. 

Moreover,  those  who  have  spoken  of  His  majesty  and  of 
heavenly  matters,  whether  Apostles  or  holy  Prophets,  dared 
not  utter  anything  unless  it  had  been  shown  them  by  revela- 
tion. Hence,  Paul  bears  witness  in  his  Epistle  that  he  was 
caught  up  to  heaven  and  heard  words  which  it  is  not  lawful 
for  man  to  utter.3  Stephen  also  saw  the  heavens  open  and 
Jesus  standing  on  the  right  hand  of  God;4  and  David  the 

1  Undated. 

2  Cf.  Exod.  24.6. 

3  Cf.  2  Cor.  12.4. 

4  Cf.  Acts  7.55. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  309 

Prophet  saw  Him  sitting.5  What  shall  I  say  of  Moses,  of  whom 
Scripture  says  that  there  has  risen  no  greater  Prophet  in  Israel, 
who  saw  the  Lord  face  to  face,  in  the  many  signs  and 
prodigies  which  He  performed  in  the  land  of  Egypt?6 

The  mystical  portion  is  offered  to  God,  and  by  the  bright- 
ness of  divine  Wisdom,  whose  Father  and  Parent  He  is,  He 
quickens  the  vigor  of  the  soul  and  illumines  the  mind.  But 
the  Wisdom  of  God  is  Christ,  whose  breast  John  reclined 
upon,7  that  from  the  secret  source  of  Wisdom  he  may  be 
said  to  have  imbibed  divine  mysteries.  John,  who  knew  the 
gift  [he  had  received],  recorded  this  incident  for  he  feared  to 
claim  for  himself  and  to  attribute  to  his  own  genius  what  he 
had  received.  Even  the  Lord  Himself  said  to  the  Apostles, 
opening  His  mouth:  'Receive  the  Holy  Spirit,'8  declaring 
that  He  was  the  one  who  had  said  to  Moses:  el  will  open 
your  mouth,  and  I  will  teach  you  what  you  are  to  speak.'9 
Thus  does  Wisdom  divine,  ineffable,  untainted,  incorruptible, 
pour  her  grace  into  the  souls  of  the  saints  and  reveal  to  them 
knowledge  that  they  may  behold  her  glory. 

But  training  in  moral  wisdom  is  that  which  is  put  into 
bowls  and  taken  therefrom  and  drunk.  The  bowls  are  the 
organs  of  the  senses.  The  bowls  are  the  two  eyes,  the  ears,  the 
nostrils,  the  mouth,  and  other  parts  suited  to  their  function. 
For  the  eyes  receive  and  minister  to  sight,  the  ears  to  hearing, 
nostrils  to  smell,  mouths  to  taste,  and  so  forth.  The  Word, 
who  is  the  source  of  the  priesthood  and  of  prophecy,  pours 
into  these  bowls  part  of  His  Blood  that  He  may  quicken  and 
animate  the  irrational  parts  of  our  nature  and  make  them 
rational. 

Finally,  when  he  [Moses]  had  numbered  the  command- 

5  Cf.  Ps.  109.1. 

6  Cf.  Deut.  34.10,11. 

7  Cf.  John  13.25. 

8  John  20.22. 

9  Exod.  4.12. 


310  SAINT  AMBROSE 

ments  of  the  Law  and  had  proclaimed  them  to  the  people, 
leaving  to  a  later  time  his  explanation  of  the  meaning  of  the 
mystical  Ark  of  the  Testament,  of  the  candlestick,  and  of  the 
censer,  he  offered  victims  and  poured  a  libation,  sprinkling 
part  of  the  blood  on  the  sacred  altars  and  putting  part  into 
bowls. 

A  division  is  made  between  a  mystical,  that  is,  divine 
wisdom,  and  moral  wisdom.  The  Logos  is  the  divider  of  souls 
and  of  virtues;  but  the  Logos,  the  Word  of  God,  is  powerful 
and  quick,  for  it  pierces  and  penetrates  even  the  division  of 
the  soul,  and  it  discerns  and  divides  virtues.  Therefore,  His 
servant  Moses,  by  the  division  of  blood,  distinguished  the 
kinds  of  virtues. 

And  because  nothing  is  announced  more  emphatically  in 
the  Law  than  is  Christ's  coming  and  nothing  prefigured  more 
clearly  than  His  passion,  consider  whether  that  is  not  the 
saving  victim  which  God  the  Word  offered  in  Himself  and 
which  He  immolated  in  His  own  body.  For,  in  the  Gospel 
and  in  the  Law,  He  first  taught  us  moral  instruction,  and 
in  His  suffering  and  in  His  every  act  and  deed,  as  though 
putting  our  senses  and  habits  into  bowls,  pouring,  as  it 
were,  the  very  substance  and  marrow  of  wisdom,  He  en- 
livened the  minds  of  men  to  become  a  seed  bed  of  virtues, 
the  regulator  of  piety.  Then,  drawing  near  the  altar,  He 
poured  out  the  Blood  of  His  own  victim. 

If  you  choose  to  understand  these  incidents  this  way,  the 
sense  is  pious;  or,  if  you  wish,  Solomon's  interpretation  is 
equally  agreeable;  namely,  that  the  Prophet  Moses  poured 
the  blood  into  bowls,  which  you  may  understand  to  be  the 
same  blood  of  which  it  has  been  written  that  wisdom  has 
mingled  her  wine  in  a  bowl,10  bidding  men  leave  foolishness 
and  seek  wisdom.  From  the  bowl  we  drink  wisdom,  instruc- 
tion, knowledge,  correction,  amendment  of  life,  control  of 

10  Cf.  Prov.  9,2. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  311 

habits  and  thoughts,  grace  of  devotion,  increase  of  virtue,  a 
fount  of  abundance. 

You  may  also  understand  by  the  sprinkling  of  the  blood 
upon  the  altar  the  cleansing  of  the  world,  the  forgiveness  of 
all  sins.  For,  as  a  victim,  He  sprinkled  that  blood  upon  the 
altar  to  take  away  the  sins  of  many.  The  lamb  is  a  victim, 
but  not  a  rational  creature,  although  it  has  divine  power,  for 
it  was  said:  'Behold  the  lamb  of  God,  behold  him  who  takes 
away  the  sins  of  the  world.511  For  He  has  not  only  cleansed 
the  sin&  of  all  with  His  Blood,  but  also  bestowed  a  divine 
power.  Does  it  not  seem  to  you  that  He  poured  out  His 
Blood,  since  water  and  blood  from  His  side  flowed  over  the 
altar  of  His  passion?12 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  as  you  do,  with  the  affection  of  a 
father. 


57.  Ambrose  to  Simplicianus,  greetings1 

The  reading  which  disturbs  you  ought  to  serve  as  proof 
of  each  man's  greatness  in  his  own  task,  for,  although  no 
one  saw  God  more  intimately  than  did  Moses,2  and  no 
greater  Prophet  arose  in  Israel,  seeing  God  face  to  face,  as 
did  Moses,3  though  he  was  with  God  continually  for  forty 
days  and  nights  when  receiving  the  Law  on  the  mountain/ 
he,  I  say,  to  whom  God  gave  the  words  which  he  was  to 
speak,5  he  is  found  to  have  approved  his  brother  Aaron's 
counsel  more  than  his  own.  Was  ever  any  one  of  mankind 

11  John  139. 

12  Cf.  John  19.34. 

1  Uhdated. 

2  Cf.  Num.  12.8. 

3  Cf.  Deut.  34.10. 

4  Cf.  Exod.  34.28. 

5  Cf.  Exod.  4.12. 


312  SAINT  AMBROSE 

wiser  and  more  learned  than  Moses?  Yet  we  read  that  Aaron 
and  Miriam  sinned  later  [by  chiding  Moses  for  his]  Ethiopian 

wife.6 

But  distinguish  carefully  this  very  thing:  at  what  time 
Moses  rendered  a  decision  with  wisdom  and  when  Aaron  did 
so  with  counsel.  Moses  was  the  great  Prophet  who  said  of 
Christ:  'Him  thou  shalt  hear  like  unto  me.'7  And  of  him  the 
Lord  Himself  said:  clf  they  do  not  hearken  to  Moses  and  the 
Prophets,  they  will  not  believe  even  if  someone  goes  to 
them  from  the  dead.'8  Therefore,  in  the  matter  of  prophecy, 
Moses  ranks  first  as  a  Prophet,  but,  in  the  concern  and  duty 
and  task  of  the  priesthood,  Aaron  ranks  first  as  a  priest.  Let 
us,  then,  discuss  this  point. 

A  buck-goat  had  been  immolated  for  sin  and  offered  as  a 
holocaust.  Moses  later  went  in  search  of  it,  but  it  had  been 
burned.  'And  Moses  was  angry  with  Eleazar  and  Ithamar 
the  sons  of  Aaron  that  were  left,  and  he  spoke  saying:  "Why 
did  you  not  eat  the  sacrifice  for  sin  in  the  holy  place?  For 
these  are  the  holy  of  holies;  this  I  gave  you  to  eat,  that  you 
may  take  away  the  sin  of  the  synagogue,  and  you  ought  to 
have  eaten  it  within,  as  was  commanded  me."  When  Aaron 
saw  that  he  was  angry,  he  answered  calmly:  "If  this  day 
hath  been  offered  the  victim  for  sin,  the  holocaust  before  the 
Lord:  and  to  me  such  things  have  happened,  shall  I  eat 
what  was  offered  for  sin  today?  Or  shall  it  please  the  Lord?" 
And  Moses  heard  and  it  pleased  him.59  Let  us  consider  what 
these  things  signify. 

Only  God  does  not  sin.  The  wise  man  mends  his  way  and 
corrects  the  man  who  is  astray  and  does  penance  for  sin. 
Yet,  this  is  difficult  in  the  life  of  men.  For,  what  is  so  rare  as 


6  Cf.  Num.  12.1. 

7  Deut.  18.15. 

8  Luke  16.31. 

9  Lev.  10.16-20. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  313 

to  find  a  man  who  convicts  himself  of  sin  and  condemns  his 
action?  Rare,  then,  is  the  confession  of  sin,  rare  is  penance, 
rare  is  a  man's  declaration  of  servitude.  Nature  rebels, 
shame  rebels;  nature  does  so  because  all  are  under  sin,  and 
he  who  is  clothed  in  flesh  is  prone  to  evil.  Therefore,  nature 
rebels  against  the  flesh,  and  the  world's  attraction  fights 
against  innocence  and  purity.  Shame,  too,  rebels,  for  each 
one  is  ashamed  to  admit  his  own  fault  while  he  thinks  of  the 
present  more  than  the  future. 

Moses  was  desirous  of  finding  a  soul  free  from  sin  that  it 
might  put  off  the  covering  of  error  and  depart  free  from 
blame  without  any  disgrace  to  himself.  But  he  did  not  find 
such  a  soul;  quickly,  the  force  of  unreason  came  into  play 
and  a  sort  of  flame  of  impetuosity  fed  on  the  soul  and 
consumed  its  innocence.  Present  considerations  outweigh  those 
4hat  are  to  come,  the  violent  the  moderate,  the  many  the 
better,  the  joyous  the  serious,  the  soft  the  harsh,  the  glad  the 
sad,  those  full  of  charm  those  more  unbending,  and  the 
speedy  the  slower  ones.  Swift  is  iniquity  which  heaps  up 
opportunities  for  harm,  because  'swift  are  his.  feet  to  shed 
blood.'10  But  every  virtue  is  gentle  and  she  delays  a  long  time 
before  she  judges  and  studies  what  things  are  to  come.  So 
the  mind  of  the  good  man  is  a  watcher  of  his  counsels,  and 
examines  beforehand  what  is  comely  and  fair,  but  iniquity 
with  labor  sets  herself  before  wisdom.  Penance  is  sluggish 
and  shameful,  for  it  is  overwhelmed  and  checked  by  regard 
for  those  present.  It  is  intent  on  future  things  only,  wherein 
hope  is  late,  where  enjoyment  is  slow,  and  slow,  too,  the 
search. 

Amid  these  endeavors  of  hope  and  virtue  shamelessness 
comes  running,  and,  because  of  the  type  of  persons  present, 
penance  is  neglected,  love  for  penance  is  destroyed,  and 
introspection  is  at  an  end.  The  Law  seeks  and  does  not  find 

10  PS.  13.3. 


314  SAINT  AMBROSE 

her,  for  she  has  been  consumed  by  the  heat  and  smoke  of 
iniquity,  and  hatred  of  the  Law  is  aroused.  Moses  says  that 
penance  should  have  been  consumed  in  the  holy  of  holies; 
he  upbraids  the  priests  for  being  sluggish.  Aaron  replies  that 
the  priestly  judgments  should  be  far-seeing,  and  this  task  is 
not  easily  assigned  to  a  weak  conscience.  Let  us  not  have 
this  error  worse  than  the  first,  for,  by  a  foul-smelling  vase, 
oil  and  wine  are  easily  corrupted  and  deteriorated. 

How  could  the  sin  be  burned  out  when  the  fire  was 
dangerous,  and  this  in  the  sight  of  the  Lord  to  whom  even 
secrets  are  known?  Can  he  please  the  Lord  if,  while  he  is 
still  involved  in  iniquities  and  while  he  keeps  injustice 
enclosed  in  his  heart,  he  says  that  he  is  doing  penance?  In 
the  same  way,  when  a  sick  man  pretends  to  be  well  he  will 
grow  more  ill,  because  pretending  good  health  is  of  no  avail 
when  he  is  falsified  in  his  words  and  is  not  supported  by  any 
helping  strength. 

A  dangerous  fire  is  lust;  a  dangerous  fire  is  every  flame  of 
unjust  desire;  a  dangerous  fire  is  all  the  heat  of  greed.  With 
this  fire  no  one  is  purified,  he  is  burned.  If  one  presents 
himself  in  the  sight  of  the  Lord,  where  there  is  that  dangerous 
fire,  fire  from  heaven  then  consumes  him,  as  fire  from  heaven 
burned  Abiad  and  Nadah  along  with  offerings  made  at  the 
sacred  altars  for  sin.  Let  one  who  wishes  to  purify  his  sin 
remove  from  himself  the  dangerous  fire.  Let  him  offer  himself 
only  to  that  fire  which  consumes  a  fault,  not  a  man. 

Listen  to  one  saying  what  that  fire  is,  for  'Jesus  baptizes 
with  the  Holy  Spirit  and  with  fire.'11  This  is  the  fire  which 
dried  up  the  blood  of  the  woman  suffering  a  hemorrhage  for 
twelve  years.12  This  fire  forgave  the  sin  of  Zaccheus,  who 
said  that  he  gave  half  of  his  goods  to  the  poor  and,  if  he 

11  Matt.  3.1L 

12  Cf.  Matt.  9.20. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  315 

defrauded  anyone,  he  restored  it  fourfold.13  This  is  the  fire 
which  removed  the  thief's  sin,  for  it  is  a  consuming  fire  which 
said  to  him:  'This  day  thou  shalt  be  with  me  in  paradise.'14 
Thus  did  He  heal  those  in  whom  He  found  a  simple  and  pure 
confession,  not  evil  and  not  deceit. 

In  fine,  Judas  could  not  reach  the  remedy,  although  he 
said:  'I  have  sinned  in  betraying  innocent  blood/15  for  he 
wrapped  a  dangerous  fire  in  his  heart  and  this  drove  him  in 
his  madness  to  the  noose.  He  was  unworthy  of  a  remedy 
because  he  did  not  groan,  being  converted  in  the  inmost 
part  of  his  heart,  nor  did  he  eagerly  practice  penance.  The 
Lord  Jesus  is  so  loving  that  He  would  have  given  him  pardon 
had  he  awaited  Christ's  mercy. 

This  fault,  therefore,  priests  do  not  remove;  nor  do  they 
remove  the  sin  of  one  who  presents  himself  in  deceit  and 
still  is  desirous  of  sinning,  for  they  cannot  feast  on  food  which 
is  full  of  cunning  and  gnaws  within.  The  food  of  a  priest  is 
in  the  remission  of  sins.  Therefore,  the  Prince  of  priests, 
Christ,  says:  'My  food  is  to  do  the  will  of  my  Father  who  is 
in  heaven.'16  What  is  the  will  of  God  but  this:  'When  you 
turn  and  groan,  then  shall  you  be  saved.'17  But  in  deceit- 
fulness  there  is  no  food.  Finally,  he  who  has  not  a  sincere 
and  pure  conscience  cannot  partake  of  the  sweetness  of 
feasting.  The  bitterness  of  deceit  conceals  the  sweetness  of 
feasting.  Nor  does  an  evil  conscience  make  it  possible  for 
penance  to  refresh  and  nourish  a  wicked  soul. 

Such  affection,  such  seeking,  such  penance,  therefore,  are 
of  no  use,  no  joy  to  priests.  And  rightfully  was  that  goat 
burned,  not  being  sacrificed  for  sin  in  a  holocaust,  since  the 

13  Cf.  Luke  19.8, 

14  Luke  23.43. 

15  Matt.  27.4. 

16  John  30.15. 

17  Isa.  30.15. 


316  SAINT  AMBROSE 

victim  was  not  sincere,18  for  in  its  sacrifice  was  discovered  a 
dangerous  fire.  Hence,  it  is  not  a  pleasing  or  acceptable 
sacrifice  to  God,  for  it  is  not  acceptable  unless  it  has  been 
proved  amid  the  riches  of  sincerity  and  truth. 

Thus,  elsewhere  you  read  of  two  goats,  one  in  whom  is  the 
lot  of  the  Lord,  in  the  other  the  emissary  [goat] ;  the  one  in 
which  there  is  the  lot  of  the  Lord  to  be  offered  and  immolated 
for  sin,  the  one  in  whom  is  the  lot  of  the  emissary  [goat]  to 
be  let  go  into  the  desert,  that  it  may  receive  the  iniquities  of 
the  people  and  of  every  sinner.19  For,  as  there  are  two  in  the 
field,  but  one  shall  be  taken  and  the  other  shall  be  left,20  so 
are  there  two  goats:  one  for  sacrifice,  the  other  to  be  allowed 
to  go  into  the  desert.  This  last  is  of  no  use;  he  is  neither  to 
be  eaten  nor  feasted  upon  by  the  sons  of  the  priests.  Just  as, 
of  those  things  that  are  used  as  food,  the  good  part  is  eaten 
and  the  useless  or  bad  is  cast  out,  so  do  we  consider  good 
works  as  feasts  because  they  are  food. 

The  Lord  will  not  be  pleased  if  a  priest  consumes  a 
sacrifice  in  which  there  is  a  deceitful  offering,  and  not  the 
sincerity  of  a  careful  confession.  Indeed,  that  goat  must  be 
allowed  to  go  into  the  desert  where  our  fathers  wandered, 
wherein  they  wandered  and  could  not  reach  the  land  of  the 
resurrection,  and  where  their  memory  perished  from  the  earth. 
Now,  understand  the  works  which  are  feasts:  'Your  foods 
shall  be  sabbaths  to  the  lands.'21  Feasts  and  banquets  are  that 
rest  in  God  which  brings  about  the  tranquility  of  the  soul.  So 
let  us  rest  also  in  our  discourse. 

Farewell,  and  love  us  as  you  do,  for  we  love  you. 

18  Cf,  Lev.  16.27. 

19  Cf.  Lev.  16.8-10. 

20  Cf.  Matt.  24.40. 

21  Lev.  25.4. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  317 

58.  Ambrose  to  his  clergy1 

Men's  minds  are  frequently  tempted  to  abandon  their  duty 
when  they  take  offense  lightly  at  things  which  do  not  fit  in 
with  their  personal  desires.  I  can  tolerate  this  state  in  other 
classes  of  men,  but  it  causes  me  great  sorrow  when  it  is  found 
in  those  who  are  dedicated  to  the  service  of  God. 

In  the  ranks  of  the  clergy  there  are  some  aggrieved  in  this 
way,  into  whom  the  Devil,  being  unable  to  find  entrance 
otherwise,  wishes  to  make  his  way  and  instill  thoughts  of  this 
sort:  'What  advantage  is  there  for  me  to  remain  among  the 
clergy,  bear  injuries,  and  endure  hardships,  as  if  my  farm 
could  not  support  me,  or,  lacking  that,  as  if  I  could  not  get 
support  some  other  way?'  By  thoughts  like  these  [men  of] 
good  dispositions  fail  their  duty,  as  though  the  only  require- 
ment for  a  cleric  were  to  provide  for  his  support,  and  not 
rather  to  win  for  himself  the  help  of  God  after  death.  Yet, 
only  that  man  will  be  rich  after  death  who  on  earth  has  been 
able  to  contend  unharmed  against  the  wiles  of  his  numerous 
enemies. 

Therefore,  Ecclesiastes  says:  'It  is  best  that  there  be  two 
rather  than  one:  for  there  is  good  advantage  for  their 
labor,  since  if  one  fall  he  shall  lift  up  his  companion.'2 
Where  are  two  better  than  one,  if  not  where  Christ  is,  and 
he  whom  Christ  guards?  When  a  man  falls  who  is  with  the 
Lord  Jesus,  Jesus  raises  him  up. 

Why  did  he  say:  Tor  their  labor'?  Is  Christ  laboring?  Yes, 
truly,  for  He  says:  'I  have  labored  calling.'3  He  labors,  but 
He  labors  on  us.  Moreover,  being  weary,  He  sat  at  a  well.4 
His  mode  of  labor  the  Apostle  has  taught  us  by  his  own  more 

1  An  undated  letter  to  certain  clergy  of  Milan  who  were  discouraged 
over  work  and  difficulties  in  the  ministry. 

2  Eccle.  4.9,10. 

3  Ps.  68.4. 

4  Cf.  John  4.6. 


318  SAINT  AMBROSE 

lowly  example:  'Who  is  weak,  and  I  am  not  weak?'5  And  the 
Lord  Himself  taught  us  in  the  words :  4I  was  sick  and  you  did 
not  visit  me:  naked,  and  you  did  not  clothe  me.'6  He  labors 
to  raise  me  when  I  fall. 

Hence,  in  Eliseus  the  Lord  is  prefigured,  for  the  Prophet 
threw  himself  upon  the  dead  child  to  raise  him  up;7  in  this 
is  the  belief  that  Christ  died  with  us  so  as  to  rise  with  us. 
Christ  so  placed  Himself  on  a  level  with  our  weakness  that 
He  raised  us  up.  He  threw  Himself  down,  He  did  not  fall, 
and  He  raised  His  comrade.  For  He  Himself  made  us  His 
comrades,  as  it  is  written:  'He  was  anointed  with  the  oil  of 
gladness  above  his  fellows.'8 

Fittingly  does  Ecclesiastes  say :  Tor  if  one  falls  he  raises  up 
his  companion.'9  He  himself  is  not  raised  up,  for  Christ  was 
not  raised  up  by  another's  help  and  power,  but  He  Himself 
raised  Himself.  Indeed,  He  said:  'Destroy  this  temple,  and 
in  three  days  I  will  raise  it  up.  This  he  said  of  the  temple  of 
his  body.'10  It  is  well  that  He  who  did  not  fall  should  not  be 
raised  by  another,  for  one  who  is  raised  by  another  has 
fallen,  and  one  who  falls  needs  help  to  be  raised  up. 
Additional  words  also  teach  this  when  Scripture  says:  'Woe 
to  him  that  is  alone:  for  when  he  falleth,  he  hath  none  to 
lift  him  up.  And  if  two  lie  together,  they  shall  warm  one 
another.'11  We  have  died  with  Christ  and  we  live  together 
with  Him.12  Christ  died  with  us  to  warm  us,  and  He  said: 
'I  have  come  to  cast  fire  upon  the  earth.'13 

I  was  dead,  but  by  dying  with  Christ  in  baptism  I  have 
received  the  light  of  life  from  Christ.  One  who  dies  in  Christ, 

5  2  Cor.  11.29. 

6  Matt.  25.43. 

7  Cf.  4  Kings  4.34, 

8  Ps.  44.  8, 

9  Eccle.  4.10. 

10  John  2.19,21. 

11  £ccle.  4.10,11. 

12  Cf.  Rom.  6.8. 

13  Luke  12.48. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  319 

being  warmed  by  Christ,  receives  the  breath  of  life  and  of  the 
resurrection.  The  child  was  cold*  Eliseus  warmed  him  with 
his  breath;  he  gave  him  the  warmth  of  life.14  He  lay  with 
him  so  that,  being  buried  with  him  in  figure,  the  warmth  of 
his  repose  might  wake  him  up.  He  is  cold  who  does  not  die  in 
Christ,  nor  can  he  be  warmed  unless  a  glowing  fire  is  applied 
to  him;  neither  can  he  give  warmth  to  another  if  he  has  not 
Christ  with  him. 

For  your  understanding  that  this  was  said  of  the  mystery, 
not  of  the  number  that  'two  are  better  than  one,'  he  adds 
mystically:  CA  threefold  cord  it  not  easily  broken.'15  Threes 
which  are  not  compounded  are  not  broken.  The  Trinity 
of  an  uncompounded  nature  cannot  be  broken,  because  God 
is  whatever  is  one  and  simple  and  not  compounded,  which 
continues  to  be  what  it  is,  and  is  not  destroyed. 

It  is  good  to  cling  to  one  another  and  to  wear  the  other's 
chain  upon  your  neck,  to  lower  your  shoulders  and  carry 
him,  and  not  to  grow  weary  of  his  bonds,  because  he  went 
from  the  house  of  bondsman  to  be  king,  that  boy  who  is 
greater  than  an  old  and  foolish  king.16  They  who  follow  him 
are  bound  in  chains;  Paul  [was]  a  prisoner  of  Jesus  Christ;17 
and  Jesus  Himself  led  captivity  captive.18  He  [Paul]  thought 
it  not  enough  to  destroy  the  captivity  which  the  Devil  had 
imposed,  so  that  he  could  not  again  attack  those  freely 
walking  about,  but  he  considered  it  perfect  freedom  to  live 
subject  to  Christ,  and  to  put  his  feet  in  the  shackles  of  wisdom, 
to  be  His  captive,  so  that  you  may  be  free  of  His  adversary.19 

Rightly  is  He  called  a  child,  Tor  a  Child  is  born  to  us,'20 
and  truly  is  He  a  good  Son,  to  whom  it  was  said  by  God  the 

14  4  Kings  4.34. 

15  Eccle.  4.12. 

16  Cf.  Eccle.  4.13. 

17  Cf.  Eph.  3.1. 

18  Cf.  Eph.  4.8. 

19  This  entire  paragraph  is  omitted  in  the  Benedictine  edition* 

20  Isa.  9.6. 


320  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Father:  clt  is  good  for  You  to  be  called  My  Son.'21  He  is 
also  wise  as  the  Gospel  teaches:  6He  advanced  in  age  and 
wisdom.'22  Likewise,  He  is  poor:  'Being  rich,  He  became 
poor,  that  by  His  poverty  He  might  make  us  rich.'23  In  His 
kingdom,  therefore,  He  does  not  despise  the  poor  man,  but 
listens  to  him  and  frees  him  from  his  difficulties  and  troubles. 

Let  us  live  as  His  subjects  so  that  the  old  foolish  king24 
will  have  no  power  over  us,  for,  while  he  wishes  to  reign  as 
the  lord  of  his  own  will  and  be  not  in  the  bonds  of  the  Lord 
Jesus,  being  confirmed  in  sin,  he  falls  into  ugly  foolishness. 
What  is  more  foolish  than  to  abandon  things  of  heaven  and 
become  engaged  in  earthly  ones,  not  to  esteem  those  that 
endure  and  to  choose  those  which  are  perishable  and  frail? 

No  one  should  say:  Our  portion  is  not  in  Jacob,  nor  our 
inheritance  in  Israel,25  nor  say:  I  am  not  in  the  lots,  for  it  is 
written:  'Give  to  Levi  his  lots.'26  Later,  David  said  that  one 
who  rests  among  the  lots  flies  aloft  on  wings  of  the  spirit.27 
Do  not  say  of  your  God:  'He  is  grievous  to  me,'28  nor  of 
your  position:  elt  is  useless  to  me,'  for  it  is  written:  'Leav$ 
not  thy  place.'29  The  Devil  wishes  to  take  it  from  you,  he 
wishes  to  carry  you  away,  for  he  is  jealous  of  your  hope  and 
jealous  of  your  task. 

But  you  who  are  in  the  lot  of  the  Lord,  His  portion  and 
possession,  do  not  let  go  the  Lord,  so  that  you  may  say  to 
Him:  'You  have  possessed  my  reins,  you  have  received  me 
from  my  mother's  womb,'30  and  He  will  say  to  you  as  a  good 
servant:  'Come  and  recline  at  table.'31 

Farewell,  sons,  and  serve  the  Lord  because  the  Lord  is  good. 

21  Isa.  49.6   (Septuagint) . 

22  Luke  2.52. 

23  2  Cor.  8.9. 

24  CL  Eccle.  4.13. 

25  Cf.  3  Kings  12.16. 

26  Deut.  33.8  (Septuagint) . 

27  Cf.  Ps.  67.14. 

28  Wisd.  2.15. 

29  Eccle.  10.4. 

30  Ps.  138.13. 

31  Luke  17.7. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  321 

59.  Ambrose,  servant  of  Christ^  called  bishop,  to  the  Church 

at  Vercelli  and  those  who  invoke  the  name  of 

our  Lord  Jesus  Christ.  May  grace  be  in  you  from 

God  the  Father  and  His  only-begotten  Son  in  the 

Holy  Spirit  (396)1 

I  am  in  sorrow  that  the  Church  of  the  Lord  among  you  is 
still  without  a  bishop  and  now  alone  of  all  the  districts  of 
Liguria  and  Aemelia  and  Venetia  and  other  territories  of 
Italy  needs  that  service  which  other  churches  used  to  beg  for 
themselves  from  her.  What  is  more  shameful — your  con- 
tention, which  causes  the  difficulty,  is  laid  to  my  charge.  Since 
dissensions  exist  among  you,  how  can  we  make  any  decision, 
how  can  you  make  a  choice,  how  can  anyone  agree  to  accept 
among  dissenters  the  task  which  he  could  hardly  endure 
among  those  who  are  united? 

Is  this  the  training  of  a  confessor,  is  this  the  line  of  those 
upright  fathers  who,  although  they  did  not  know  blessed 
Eusebius2  before,  setting  aside  their  fellow  citizens,  approved 
him  as  soon  as  they  saw  him?  And  so  much  more  did  they 
approve  him  when  they  observed  him.  Rightfully  did  he 
come  forth,  the  man  whom  the  entire  Church  elected; 
rightfully  was  it  believed  that  he,  whom  all  had  demanded, 
was  elected  by  God's  judgment.  You,  then,  should  follow  the 
example  of  your  parents,  especially  since  you  have  been  much 
better  instructed  by  a  saintly  confessor  than  were  your  fathers 
inasmuch  as  a  better  teacher  has  instructed  and  trained  you, 

1  Written   when   the   Church   at   Vercelli   was  unable   to  agree   on   a 
successor  for  their  Bishop  Limenius,  who  had  died.  As  metropolitan 
bishop,  Ambrose  wrote  what  is  the  longest  letter  in  his  correspondence 
as  well  as  bearing  the  latest  exact  date.  However,  it  was  without  effect, 
and  Ambrose  eventually  went  in  person  to  help  choose  the  new  bishop, 
Honoratus.  The  entire  letter  forms  a  treatise  on  the  election  of  bishops 
and  the  duties  of  pastors  and  electors. 

2  Ambrose  praises  those  people  of  Vercelli  who  formerly  accepted  Euse- 
bius as  the  choice  of  God  Himself. 


322  SAINT  AMBROSE 

and  you  must  give  evidence  of  your  moderation  and  accord 
by  agreeing  in  your  request  for  a  bishop. 

We  have  our  Lord's  saying  that  'when  two  agree  upon 
anything  on  earth  it  will  be  done  for  them  concerning  what- 
ever they  ask,5  as  He  says,  'by  my  Father  who  is  in  heaven, 
for  where  two  or  three  are  gathered  together  in  my  name, 
there  am  I  in  the  midst  of  them.'3  How  much  more  true  is  it 
that  when  the  full  congregation  is  gathered  in  the  name  of  the 
Lord,  and  when  the  demand  of  all  is  one  in  accord,  we  may 
not  in  any  way  doubt  that  the  Lord  Jesus  will  there  be  the 
judge — the  source  of  their  will,  the  presiding  officer  of  the 
ordination,  the  giver  of  grace ! 

Therefore,  make  yourselves  appear  worthy  of  having  Christ 
in  your  midst.  Wfiere  there  is  peace,  there  is  Christ,  for 
Christ  is  our  peace.4  Where  there  is  justice,  there  is  Christ, 
for  Christ  is  justice.5  Let  Him  be  in  the  midst  of  you,  that 
you  may  see  Him  and  that  it  may  not  be  said  of  you,  also :  'But 
in  the  midst  of  you  there  stands  one  whom  you  do  not  see.'6 
The  Jews  did  not  see  Him  in  whom  they  did  not  believe;  we 
behold  Him  with  devotion;  we  gaze  on  Him  with  faith. 

Let  Him  stand  in  the  midst  of  you  so  that  there  may  be 
opened  for  you  the  heavens  which  tell  the  glory  of  God,7 
that  you  may  do  His  will  and  work  His  work.  The  heavens 
are  opened  to  him  who  sees  Jesus  as  they  were  opened  to 
Stephen,  who  said:  'Behold  I  see  the  heavens  opened  and 
Jesus  standing  at  the  right  hand  of  God.'8  Jesus  stood  as  a 
helpmate;  He  stood  as  if  anxious  to  help  Stephen,  His 
athlete,  in  the  struggle;  He  stood  as  though  ready  to  crown 
His  martyr. 

3  Matt.  18.20. 

4  Cf.  Eph.  2.14. 

5  Cf.  1  Cor.  1.30. 

6  John  1.26. 

7  Ps.  18.2. 

8  Acts  7.56. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  323 

Let  Him  then  stand  for  you  that  you  may  not  fear  Him 
sitting,  for  He  sits  when  He  judges,  as  Daniel  says :  'Thrones 
were  placed  and  the  books  were  opened  and  the  Ancient  of 
days  sat/9  But  in  Psalm  81  it  is  written:  'God  rises  in  the 
divine  assembly.,  in  the  midst  of  the  gods  he  gives  judgment.'10 
He  sits  to  judge,  He  stands  to  give  judgment,  and  He  judges 
the  imperfect,  but  gives  judgment  among  the  gods.  Let  Him 
like  a  good  Shepherd  stand  as  your  defender,  so  that  dreadful 
wolves  may  not  attack  you. 

Not  without  reason  do  I  advise  you  up  to  this  point, 
because  I  hear  that  those  foolish  men,  Sarmation  and 
Barbatianus,  have  come  to  you,  saying  that  there  is  no  merit 
in  fasting,  no  grace  in  frugality,  and  none  in  virginity;  that 
all  persons  are  of  equal  value,  and  that  they  are  mad  who 
chastise  their  body  by  fasting  in  order  to  make  it  subject  to 
the  spirit.  If  he  had  thought  it  madness,  Paul  would  never 
have  done  so  nor  written  to  instruct  others,  but  he  glories  in 
it,  saying:  'I  chastise  my  body  and  bring  it  into  subjection, 
lest  preaching  to  others,  I  myself  should  be  found  a  cast- 
away.'11 Thus,  those  who  do  not  chastise  their  body  and  yet 
wish  to  preach  to  others  are  themselves  considered  castaways. 

How  reprobate  is  that  which  prompts  wantonness,  bribery, 
and  lewdness,  namely,  the  incitement  to  lust,  the  enticement 
to  sinful  pleasure,  the  fuel  of  incontinency,  the  fire  of  greed ! 
What  new  school  has  sent  out  those  Epicureans?  They  who 
preach  pleasure,  urge  delights,  and  think  that  purity  is  of  no 
benefit  are  not  followers  of  philosophy,  as  they  assert,  but 
ignorant  men.  They  were  with  us,  but  they  were  not  of  us,12 
for  we  are  not  ashamed  to  say  what  John  the  Evangelist  says. 
When  they  were  first  stationed  here  they  fasted,  they  stayed 

9  Dan.  7.9. 

10  Ps.  81.1. 

11  1  Cor.  9.27. 

12  Cf.  1  John  2.19. 


324  SAINT  AMBROSE 

within  the  monastery;  there  was  no  room  for  wantonness  and 
the  chance  to  dispute  in  mockery  was  not  allowed  them. 

But  these  dissolute  men  could  not  stand  this.  They  went 
off,  and  when  they  wished  to  return  they  were  not  admitted, 
for  I  had  heard  several  things  which  put  me  on  my  guard.  I 
warned  them,  but  accomplished  nothing.  In  anger,  therefore, 
they  began  scattering  such  seeds  as  made  them  the  wretched 
instigators  of  all  vices.  So  they  have  lost  the  benefit  of  having 
fasted,  they  have  lost  the  benefit  of  having  been  self-controlled 
for  a  while.  Now  with  a  devilish  purpose  they  envy  the  good 
deeds  of  others,  since  they  themselves  miss  their  enjoyment. 

What  maiden  does  not  groan  upon  hearing  that  virginity 
has  no  reward?  Far  be  it  from  her  to  believe  this  easily,  or 
lay  aside  her  efforts,  or  change  her  heart's  intention.  What 
widow,  finding  that  there  is  no  profit  in  her  widowhood, 
would  prefer  to  keep  faith  in  her  husband  and  spend  her 
life  in  sadness  rather  than  to  enter  upon  a  happier  life?  What 
woman  bound  by  marriage  ties,  when  she  hears  that  there  is 
no  honor  in  chastity,  will  not  needlessly  be  subject  to  temp- 
tation through  levity  of  body  or  of  soul?  Therefore,  the 
Church  each  day  proclaims  the  praise  of  chastity  and  the 
glory  of  purity  in  the  sacred  lessons  and  in  the  sermons  of 
her  bishops. 

In  vain,  then,  did  the  Apostle  say:  CI  wrote  to  you  in  the 
letter  not  to  associate  with  the  immoral.'13  And  that  they 
might  not  say,  perhaps:  eWe  are  not  speaking  of  all  the 
immoral  persons  of  the  world,  but  we  say  that  one  who  has 
been  baptized  in  Christ  ought  no  longer  be  considered 
immoral,  but  be  what  it  may,  his  life  has  become  acceptable 
to  God,'  the  Apostle  added:  'Not  meaning,  of  course,  the 
immoral  of  this  world';  and  below:  6If  a  brother  is  called 
immoral,  or  covetous,  or  an  idolator,  or  evil-tongued,  or  a 
drunkard,  or  greedy,  with  such  a  one  not  even  to  take  food. 

13  1  Cor.  4.9. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  325 

For  what  have  I  to  do  with  judging  those  outside?'14  And 
to  the  Ephesians  he  said :  'But  immorality  and  every  unclean- 
ness  or  covetousness,  let  it  not  even  be  named  among  you,  as 
becomes  saints.3  And  immediately  he  adds  below:  Tor  know 
this,  that  no  shameless,  or  unclean  person,  or  covetous  one 
(for  that  is  idolatry)  has  any  inheritance  in  the  kingdom 
of  Christ  and  God.'15  Certainly  it  is  clear  that  he  spoke  of 
the  baptized,  for  they  receive  the  inheritance  who  are  baptized 
in  Christ's  death  and  buried  with  Him  so  that  they  may  rise 
with  Him.16  Indeed,  they  are  heirs  of  God,  joint-heirs  of 
Christ,  heirs  of  God  because  the  grace  of  God  is  bestowed  on 
them,  joint-heirs  of  Christ  because  they  are  reborn  to  His  life, 
heirs  also  of  Christ  because  through  His  death  the  inheritance, 
like  that  of  a  testator,  is  given  to  them. 

Wherefore,  they  who  have  what  they  may  lose  ought  to  be 
more  solicitous  for  their  needs  than  those  who  have  not.  They 
ought  to  act  with  greater  care,  to  avoid  the  allurement  of 
vices,  the  incitement  to  wrong,  which  arise  chiefly  from  food 
and  drink,  for  'The  people  sat  down  to  eat,  and  drink,  ancl 
they  rose  up  to  play.'17 

Moreover,  the  famous  Epicurus,  whom  these  persons  think 
they  should  follow  rather  than  the  Apostles,  that  advocate  of 
pleasure,  although  he  denies  that  pleasure  brings  on  evil, 
does  not  deny  that  certain  things  follow  from  it  and  from 
these  spring  evils;  and  he  says  also  that  the  life  of  luxurious 
persons,  which  is  filled  with  pleasure,  does  not  seem  blame- 
worthy unless  it  is  troubled  by  the  fear  of  pain  or  death. 
But  how  much  a  stranger  he  is  to  the  truth  is  seen  from  the 
fact  that  he  says  that  pleasure  was  originally  created  in  man- 
kind by  God,  just  as  his  follower  Philomarus18  argues  in  his 

14  1  Cor.  5.11,12. 

15  Eph.  5.3,5. 

16  Cf.  Rom.  6.3. 

17  Exod.  32.6. 

18  This  is  probably  the  philosopher  Philodemus   (c.  110-c.  40/35  B.C.)  . 


326  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Epitome,  claiming  that  the  Stoics  are  the  originators  of  this 
opinion. 

But  holy  Scripture  refutes  this,  for  it  teaches  us  that 
pleasure  was  suggested  to  Adam  and  Eve  by  the  crafty  entice- 
ments of  the  serpent.19  If  the  serpent  itself  is  pleasure,  then 
the  passions  of  pleasure  are  changeable  and  slippery,  and  are 
infected,  as  it  were,  with  the  poison  of  corruption.  It  is 
certain,  then,  that  Adam,  deceived  by  the  desire  of  pleasure, 
fell  away  from  the  command  of  God  and  from  the  enjoyment 
of  grace.  How,  then,  can  pleasure  call  us  back  to  paradise, 
when  by  itself  it  deprived  us  of  paradise? 

Therefore,  the  Lord  Jesus,  wishing  to  make  us  strong 
against  the  temptations  of  the  Devil,  fasted  when  He  was 
about  to  struggle  with  him,  so  that  we  might  know  that  we 
cannot  otherwise  overcome  the  enticement  of  evil.  Further, 
the  Devil  himself  hurled  the  first  shaft  of  his  temptations 
regarding  pleasure,  saying:  elf  thou  art  the  Son  of  God, 
command  that  these  stones  become  loaves  of  bread.'  Then  the 
Lord  said:  'Not  by  bread  alone  does  man  live,  but  by  every 
word  of  God/20  and  He  would  not  [change  stones  to  bread] 
although  He  could,  but  He  taught  us  by  a  salutary  precept 
to  attend  to  the  pursuit  of  our  reading  rather  than  to  pleasure. 
Since  they  say  we  ought  not  to  fast,  let  them  show  us  why 
Christ  fasted  if  not  to  make  His  fast  an  example  for  us.  Then, 
in  the  words  which  He  spoke  later,  He  taught  us  that  evil 
cannot  easily  be  conquered  except  by  our  fasting,  saying: 
'This  kind  of  devil  is  only  cast  out  by  prayer  and  fasting.'21 

And  what  is  the  purpose  of  Scripture  in  teaching  us  that 
Peter  fasted  and  that  the  mystery  regarding  the  baptism  of 
the  Gentiles  was  revealed  to  him  when  he  was  fasting  and 
praying,22  if  not  to  show  that  the  saints  themselves,  when 

19  Gen.  3.1-6. 

20  CL  Matt.  4.2-4. 

21  Matt.  17.20. 

22  Cf.  Acts  10.10. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS 


327 


they  fast,  become  more  illustrious?  Moses  received  the  Law 
when  he  was  fasting,23  and  so  Peter,  when  he  was  fasting,  was 
taught  the  grace  of  the  New  Testament.  Daniel,  too,  by  virtue 
of  his  fasting,  stopped  the  jaws  of  the  lions  and  saw  the  events 
of  future  times.24  Or  what  salvation  can  we  have  unless  by 
fasting  we  wipe  out  our  sins,  since  Scripture  says  fasting  and 
almsgiving  purge  away  sin!25 

Who,  then,  are  these  new  teachers  who  reject  the  merit  of 
fasting?  Is  it  not  the  voice  of  heathens  who  say:  'Let  us  eat 
and  drink,3  whom  the  Apostle  ridicules,  saying:  'If,  as  men 
do,  I  fought  with  beasts  at  Ephesus,  what  does  it  profit  me? 
If  the  dead  do  not  rise,  "let  us  eat  and  drink  for  tomorrow 
we  shall  die"  J?26  That  is  to  say,  what  did  my  struggle  even 
unto  death  profit  me,  except  that  I  might  redeem  my  body? 
And  it  is  redeemed  in  vain  if  there  is  no  hope  of  a  resurrection. 
And  if  all  hope  of  the  resurrection  is  lost,  let  us  eat  and 
drink  and  lose  not  the  enjoyment  of  the  things  present,  for 
we  have  none  to  come.  They  should  indulge  in  food  and 
drink  who  hope  for  nothing  after  death.27 

Finally,  the  Epicureans  say  they  are  followers  of  pleasure 
because  death  means  nothing  to  them,  because  that  which 
is  dissolved  has  no  feeling,  and  that  which  has  no  feeling 
means  nothing  to  us.  Thus  they  show  that  they  are  living 
only  carnally  not  spiritually,  and  they  do  not  discharge  the 
duty  of  the  soul,  but  only  of  the  flesh,  thinking  that  all  life's 
duty  is  ended  with  the  separation  of  soul  and  body,  that  the 
merit  of  virtues  and  all  the  vigor  of  the  soul  come  to  an  end, 
that  they  cease  completely  when  the  feeling  of  the  body 
ceases,  that  there  are  no  remains  of  the  soul  although  even 
the  body  itself  does  not  at  once  disintegrate.  Does  the  soul, 

23  Cf.  Exod.  34.28. 

24  Dan.  14.37,38;  9.2,3. 

25  Cf.  Tob.  12.8,9. 

26  1  Cor.  15.32. 

27  The  Benedictine  edition  repeats  this  paragraph. 


328  SAINT  AMBROSE 

then,  disintegrate  before  the  body,  although  for  their  own 
satisfaction,  they  must  see  that  flesh  and  bones  survive  after 
death,  and  in  all  truthfulness  they  may  not  disavow  the  grace 
of  the  resurrection? 

Rightly,  then,  does  the  Apostle,  arguing  against  such  men, 
warn  us  not  to  be  shaken  by  such  opinions,  saying:  'Do  not 
be  led  astray,  "evil  companionships  corrupt  good  morals." 
Be  righteously  sober,  and  do  not  sin;  for  some  have  no  knowl- 
edge of  God/38  Sobriety,  then,  is  a  good,  for  drunkenness  is 
a  sin. 

But  as  to  Epicurus  himself,  the  champion  of  pleasure, 
whom  we  have  frequently  mentioned  in  order  to  prove  that 
these  men  are  either  disciples  of  the  heathen  or  followers  of 
the  Epicurean  sect,  whom  the  philosophers  themselves  exclude 
from  their  company  as  the  patron  of  luxury — what  if  we  show 
that  he  is  more  tolerable  than  these  men?  He  declares,  as 
Demarchus29  asserts,  that  neither  drinking,  nor  banquets,  nor 
a  line  of  sons,  nor  the  embraces  of  women,  nor  abundance  of 
fish,  and  other  such  things,  which  are  prepared  for  splendid 
use  at  a  banquet,  make  life  sweet,  but  sober  discussion  does 
so.  He  adds,  too,  that  those  who  do  not  yearn  for  the  richness 
of  banquets  immoderately  use  them  moderately.  One  who 
delights  only  in  using  the  juice  of  plants  or  bread  and  water 
despises  feasts  of  delicacies,  for  many  inconveniences  arise 
therefrom.  Elsewhere,  too,  these  [philosophers]  say:  elt  is  not 
excessive  banquets  nor  drinking  but  a  life  of  temperance 
which  occasions  the  sweetness  of  pleasure.' 

Since,  then,  philosophy  has  disowned  those  men,  is  the 
Church  not  to  exclude  them,  especially  since  by  reason  of  the 
bad  case  which  they  have  they  frequently  undo  themselves 

28  1  Cor.  15.33. 

29  Demarchus  is  mentioned  by  no  other  writer  besides  Ambrose.  The 
Benedictines  suggest  he  may  have  meant  Hermachus,  successor  and 
disciple  of  Epicurus,  267  B.  c. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  329 

by  their  own  assertions?  For,  although  their  principal  tenet  is 
that  there  is  no  enjoyment  of  pleasure  except  that  which  is 
derived  from  food  and  drink,  yet,  knowing  that  they  cannot 
without  the  greatest  shame  cling  to  so  disgraceful  a  definition, 
and  that  they  are  eschewed  by  all,  they  have  tried  to  color  it 
with  a  kind  of  stain — spurious  argument.  Thus,  one  of  them 
has  said :  'While  we  are  desirous  of  pleasure  through  banquets 
and  songs,  we  have  lost  that  which  is  infused  into  us  by  the 
reception  of  the  Word  by  which  alone  we  can  be  saved.' 

Do  they  not  appear  to  us  by  these  various  arguments  to 
differ  and  disagree?  Scripture,  too,  condemns  them,  and  did 
not  fail  to  mention  those  whom  the  Apostle  refuted,  as  did 
Luke,  who  wrote  his  book  as  a  history  telling  us  in  the  Acts 
of  the  Apostles:  'And  some  of  the  Epicurean  and  Stoic 
philosophers  debated  with  him;  and  some  said,  "What  is 
this  babbler  trying  to  say?"  But  others,  "He  seems  to  be  a 
herald  of  strange  gods.53  '30 

Yet,  the  Apostle  did  not  leave  these  people  without  favor, 
for  even  Dionysius  the  Areopagite  believed  along  with  his 
wife  Damaris  and  many  others.  So  that  assembly  of  learned 
and  eloquent  men  showed  that  they  were  themselves  over- 
come in  a  simple  discussion  by  the  example  of  believers. 
What,  then,  do  those  men  want  who  are  trying  to  corrupt 
those  whom  the  Apostle  has  gained,  and  whom  Christ  has 
redeemed  with  His  Blood?  They  assert  that  baptized  persons 
ought  not  to  strive  for  training  of  the  virtues,  that  reveling 
does  them  no  harm,  nor  excess  of  pleasure,  that  they  are 
foolish  who  go  without  these  things.  Virgins  ought  to  marry, 
to  bear  children,  and  widows  likewise  should  repeat  that 
converse  with  man  which  they  one  experienced  with  bad 
results,  and,  even  if  they  can  restrain  themselves,  they  are  in 
error  who  do  not  wish  to  enter  marriage  again. 

What  then?  Is  it  proper  for  us  to  put  off  the  man,  and  put 

30  Acts  17.18. 


330  SAINT  AMBROSE 

on  the  beast,  and  stripping  ourselves  of  Christ  to  clothe 
ourselves  or  add  to  our  clothing  the  garments  of  the  Devil? 
The  very  teachers  of  the  heathen  did  not  think  honor  and 
pleasure  could  be  joined  together,  because  they  would  seem 
thus  to  class  beasts  with  men,  and  shall  we  infuse  the  habits 
of  beasts  into  the  breast  of  man.  and  inscribe  on  the  reasonable 
mind  the  unreasonable  manner  of  wild  beasts? 

Yet,  there  are  many  kinds  of  animals  which,  having  lost 
their  mate,  refrain  from  mating  again  and  spend  the  time  in 
a  life  of  solitude;  many,  too,  feed  on  simple  herbs  and  will 
not  learn  how  to  slake  their  thirst  except  at  a  pure  stream; 
one  may  also  see  dogs  refrain  from  food  forbidden  them, 
closing  their  famishing  mouths  if  restraint  is  put  upon  them. 
Are  men  to  be  warned  against  the  practice  which  brute 
beasts  have  learned  through  man  not  to  transgress? 

What  is  more  excellent  than  fasting  which  makes  the  years 
of  youth  grow  aged  so  that  there  is  an  old  age  of  character? 
For,  as  advanced  age  is  stimulated  by  excess  in  food  and  by 
drunkenness,  so  the  wildness  of  youth  is  subdued  by  scanty 
food  and  by  the  running  stream.  An  external  fire  is  ex- 
tinguished by  pouring  on  water,  nor  is  it  strange  if  the  inner 
heat  of  the  body  is  cooled  by  a  drink  from  a  stream,  for  the 
flame  is  fed  with  fuel  or  it  fails.  As  things  like  hay  and 
straw,  wood  and  oil,  are  the  nourishment  of  the  fire  by 
which  it  is  fed,  so,  if  you  take  them  away  or  do  not  supply 
them,  the  fire  dies.  Likewise,  by  food  the  heat  of  the  body  is 
supported  or  lessened;  it  is  aroused  by  food;  by  food  it  is 
tamed.  Therefore  is  excess  the  mother  of  lust. 

And  is  not  temperance  in  harmony  with  nature  and  that 
divine  law  which  in  the  beginning  of  all  things  gave  the 
springs  for  drink  and  the  fruits  of  trees  for  food?  After  the 
Flood,  the  just  man  found  wine  a  source  of  temptation  to 
him.31  Let  us,  then,  use  the  natural  food  of  temperance,  and 

31  Cf.  Gen,  9.20-21. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  33 1 

would  that  we  all  could  do  so !  But,  because  all  are  not  strong, 
the  Apostle  therefore  says :  'Use  a  little  wine  for  thy  frequent 
infirmities.'32  We  must  drink  it  not  for  our  pleasure,  but  for 
our  infirmity,,  sparingly  as  a  remedy,  not  excessively  as  a 
gratification. 

Lastly,  Elias,  whom  the  Lord  was  rearing  to  the  perfection 
of  virtue,  found  at  his  head  a  cake  and  a  vessel  of  water,  and 
in  the  strength  of  that  food  he  fasted  forty  days.33  Our 
fathers,  when  they  crossed  the  sea  on  foot,  drank  water,  not 
wine.34  Daniel  and  the  Hebrew  youths  were  fed  with  their 
native  food35  and  given  water  to  drink;  the  one  was  victorious 
over  the  fury  of  lions,36  the  others  saw  the  burning  fire  play 
around  their  limbs  with  harmless  touch.37 

And  why  should  I  speak  of  men?  Judith,  absolutely  un- 
moved by  the  luxurious  banquet  of  Holofernes,  solely  by 
virtue  of  her  temperance  carried  off  the  triumph  which 
men's  strength  despaired  of;  she  lifted  her  country  from 
siege;  she  slew  the  general  of  the  army  with  her  own  hands.38 
This  is  clear  proof  that  his  luxury  had  enervated  that  warrior, 
terrible  to  the  nations,  and  temperance  in  food  had  made 
this  woman  stronger  than  men.  Here  it  was  not  in  her  sex 
that  nature  was  overcome,  but  she  overcame  through  her 
own  food.  Esther  by  her  fasts  won  the  favor  of  a  proud 
king.39  Anna,  who  for  eighty-four  years  as  a  widow  wor- 
shiped in  the  temple  with  fasts  and  prayers  day  and  night, 
knew  Christ  whom  John  announced,  he  who  was  the  teacher 
of  abstinence  and,  as  it  were,  a  new  angel  on  earth.40 

32  1  Tim.  5.23. 

33  Of.  3  Kings  19.6-8. 

34  Cf.  Exod.  17.6. 

35  Cf.  Dan.  L8,15. 

36  Cf.  Dan.  14.39. 

37  Cf  Dan.  3.23,49,50. 

38  Cf.  Judith  13. 

39  Cf.  Esther  4.16. 

40  Cf.  Matt.  3.4. 


332  SAINT  AMBROSE 

O  foolish  Eliseus,  feeding  the  Prophets  with  wild  and 
bitter  gourds!41  and  Esdras,  unmindful  of  the  Scriptures, 
although  he  restored  the  Scriptures  from  memory!42  Foolish 
Paul,  glorying  in  fasts,43  if  fasting  profits  nothing! 

How  are  they  of  no  profit,  if  they  cleansed  sins?  If  you 
make  an  offering  with  humility  and  with  mercy,  as  Isaias 
said  by  the  Spirit  of  God,  your  bones  shall  be  fat  and  you 
shall  be  like  a  watered  garden.44  Then  your  soul  and  its 
virtues  gleam  through  the  spiritual  richness  of  fasting,  and 
your  joys  are  manifold  because  of  the  richness  of  your  mind, 
so  there  will  be  in  you  the  ebriety  of  sobriety,  like  that  cup 
of  which  the  Prophet  says :  'My  brimming  cup,  how  excellent 
it  is!'45 

Not  only  is  that  temperance,  praiseworthy  which  leaves 
aside  food,  but  that,  too,  which  leaves  aside  lust,  for  it  is 
written:  'Go  not  after  thy  lusts:  but  say  no  to  thy  own  will. 
If  thou  give  to  thy  soul  her  desires,  thou  wilt  be  a  joy  to  thy 
enemies/  and  below:  cWine  and  women  make  wise  men 
fall  off.'4S  Therefore,  Paul  teaches  temperance  even  in  mar- 
riage,47 for  one  who  is  incontinent  in  marriage  is  like  an 
adulterer  and  violates  the  Apostle's  law. 

Why  should  I  tell  of  the  great  grace  of  virginity  which 
was  worthy  of  being  chosen  by  Christ  so  that  it  might  be 
the  bodily  temple  of  God,  in  which,  as  we  read,  dwelt  the 
fullness  of  the  Godhead  bodily.48  A  virgin  begot  the  salvation 
of  the  world,  a  virgin  brought  forth  the  life  of  all.  Should 
virginity,  then,  be  abandoned  which  was  of  benefit  to  all  in 
Christ?  A  virgin  carried  Him  whom  this  world  cannot  contain 

41  Cf.  4  Kings  4.39. 

42  Cf.  2  Esd.  8.2. 

43  Cf.  2  Cor.  11.27. 

44  a.  Isa.  58.1  L 

45  Ps.  22.5. 

46  Eccli.  18.30,31;  19.2. 

47  Cf.  1  Cor.  7.2-6. 

48  Cf.  Col.  2.9. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  333 

or  support.  And  when  He  was  born  of  Mary's  womb,  He 
yet  preserved  the  enclosure  of  her  modesty,  and  the  inviolate 
seal  of  her  virginity.  Thus,  Christ  found  in  the  virgin  that 
which  He  wanted  to  be  His  own,  that  which  the  Lord  of  all 
might  take  for  Himself.  Through  a  man  and  a  woman  flesh 
was  cast  out  of  paradise;  it  was  joined  to  God  [through  a 
virgin] . 

What  shall  1  say  of  that  other  Mary,  the  sister  of  Moses, 
who,  as  leader  of  a  woman's  band,  went  on  foot  over  the 
waters  of  the  sea?49  By  the  same  gift  Thecla  was  reverenced 
by  lions,  so  that  the  unfed  beasts  lying  at  the  feet  of  their 
prey  prolonged  a  holy  fast  and  harmed  the  maiden  neither 
by  wanton  glance  nor  claw,  for  the  sacredness  of  virginity  is 
harmed  even  by  a  glance. 

Again,  with  what  reverence  for  virginity  did  the  holy 
Apostle  speak:  'Now  concerning  virgins  I  have  no  com- 
mandment of  the  Lord,  yet  I  give  an  opinion,  as  one  having 
obtained  mercy  from  the  Lord.'50  He  has  not  a  command- 
ment, he  has  a  counsel,  for  what  is  beyond  the  law  is  not 
made  a  precept,  but  is  rather  advised  by  way  of  counsel. 
Authority  is  not  taken  for  granted,  but  grace  is  pointed  out, 
nor  is  it  pointed  out  by  anyone  whatsoever,  but  by  one  who 
has  obtained  the  mercy  of  the  Lord.  Are  the  counsels  of 
these  men  better  than  the  Apostle's?  Says  the  Apostle:  CI 
give  an  opinion';  but  they  think  they  have  to  dissuade  one 
from  striving  for  virginity. 

We  ought  to  realize  what  praise  of  it  the  Prophet,  or, 
rather,  Christ  in  the  Prophet,  has  expressed  in  a  short  verse: 
'My  sister,  my  spouse,  is  a  garden  enclosed,  a  garden  en- 
closed, a  fountain  sealed  up/51  Christ  says  this  to  the  Church 
which  He  wishes  to  be  a  virgin>  without  spot,  without 

49  Cf.  Exod.  15.20. 

50  1  Cor.  7.25. 

51  Cant.  4.12. 


334  SAINT  AMBROSE 

wrinkle.  A  rich  garden  is  virginity  which  brings  forth  many 
fruits  of  rich  odor.  CA  garden  enclosed3  [is  virginity]  because 
it  is  shut  in  on  all  sides  by  the  wall  of  chastity.  CA  fountain 
sealed  up'  is  virginity  for  it  is  the  fount  and  wellspring  of 
modesty  which  keeps  the  seal  of  purity  inviolate,  in  whose 
source  there  may  shine  the  image  of  God,  since  the  pureness 
of  simplicity  coincides  with  chastity  of  the  body. 

And  no  one  can  doubt  that  the  Church  is  a  virgin,  which, 
also  in  Corinthians,52  the  Apostle  Paul  espoused  to  present 
as  a  chaste  virgin  to  Christ.  Thus,  in  the  first  Epistle  he  gives 
a  counsel,  and  considers  the  gift  of  virginity  good,  since  it 
is  not  disturbed  by  the  troubles  of  the  present  world,  nor 
polluted  by  any  filthiness,  nor  shaken  by  any  storm;  in  the 
later  Epistle  he  becomes  a  godparent  for  Christ,  because  he 
is  able  to  attest  the  virginity  of  the  Church  by  the  purity  of 
its  people. 

Tell  me  now,  Paul,  in  what  way  you  will  give  counsel 
under  the  present  distress?  'He  who  is  unmarried,3  he  says, 
Is  concerned  about  the  things  of  the  Lord,  how  he  may 
please  God.'  He  adds,  too:  'And  the  unmarried  woman,  and 
the  virgin,  thinks  about  the  things  of  the  Lord,  that  she  may 
be  holy  in  body  and  spirit.'53  She  has  her  wall,  protecting  her 
against  the  storms  of  this  world,  and,  thus  fortified  by  the 
enclosure  of  God's  protection,  she  is  disquieted  by  no  winds 
of  this  world.  Counsel  is  good,  then,  because  in  counsel  there 
is  advantage;  in  precept,  fetters.  Counsel  attracts  the  willing; 
precept  binds  the  unwilling.  If  anyone  has  followed  counsel, 
and  has  not  regretted  it,  she  has  reached  an  advantage.  But 
if  one  has  regretted  it,  she  has  no  reason  to  blame  the  Apostle. 
She  herself  should  have  decided  her  own  weakness,  and  she 
is  responsible  for  her  own  will,  since  she  bound  herself  by 
fetters  and  a  knot  too  heavy  to  bear. 

52  Cf.  1  Cor.  7.26. 

53  1  Cor.  7.32,34. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  335 

Therefore,  he  gives  to  some  counsel,  to  others  he  shows  a 
remedy  like  a  good  physician  desirous  of  preserving  the 
steadfastness  of  virtue  in  the  strong,  and  of  giving  health  to 
the  infirm:  'He  who  is  weak,  let  him  eat  vegetables,'54  let 
him  take  a  wife;  he  who  is  stronger,  let  him  seek  the  stronger 
meat  of  virtue.  Rightly  he  adds:  'But  he  who  stands  firm  in 
his  heart,  being  under  no  constraint,  but  is  free  to  carry  out 
his  own  will,  and  has  decided  to  keep  his  virgin — he  does 
well.  Therefore  both  he  who  gives  his  virgin  in  marriage  does 
well,  and  he  who  does  not  give  her  does  better.  A  woman  is 
bound  as  long  as  her  husband  is  alive,  but  if  her  husband  dies, 
she  is  free.  Let  her  marry  whom  she  pleases,  only  let  it  be  in 
the  Lord.  But  she  will  be  more  blessed,  in  my  judgment,  if 
she  remains  as  she  is.  And  I  think  that  I  also  have  the  Spirit  of 
God.555  This  is  to  have  the  counsel  of  God,  to  seek  diligently 
into  all  things,  and  to  advise  those  things  that  are  better, 
to  point  out  those  that  are  safer. 

A  cautious  guide  points  out  many  paths  so  that  each  one 
may  proceed  along  that  which  he  wishes  and  considers 
suitable  for  himself,  provided  he  happens  on  one  by  which  he 
can  reach  the  camp.  The  path  of  virginity  is  good,  but,  being 
lofty  and  steep,  it  requires  stronger  wayfarers.  Good  also  is 
that  [path]  of  widowhood,  not  as  difficult  as  the  former,  but 
being  rocky  and  rough  it  demands  more  cautious  wayfarers. 
Good,  also,  is  that  of  marriage;  being  smooth  and  straight, 
it  reaches  the  camp  of  the  saints  by  a  more  roundabout 
way,  it  admits  most  persons.  Virginity,  therefore,  has  its 
rewards,  widowhood  has  its  merits,  and  there  is  place,  too, 
for  conjugal  modesty.  There  are  steps  and  progress  in  each 
and  every  virtue. 

Stand  firm,  therefore,  in  your  heart  so  that  no  one  may 
undermine  you,  so  that  no  one  can  overthrow  you.  The 

54  Rom.  14.2. 

55  1  Cor.  7.37-40. 


336  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Apostle  has  explained  what  it  is  'to  stand/  that  is,  what  was 
said  to  Moses:  'The  place  whereon  thou  standest  is  holy 
ground;56  for  no  one  stands  unless  he  stands  by  faith,  unless 
he  stands  firm  in  the  determination  of  his  heart.  Elsewhere, 
we  also  read:  'But  stand  thou  here  with  me.'57  Two  things 
were  said  to  Moses  by  the  Lord:  'where  thou  standest  is  holy 
ground,'  and  'stand  thou  here  with  me,'  that  is,  you  stand  with 
me,  if  you  stand  in  the  Church.  The  very  place  is  holy,  the 
very  ground  is  rich  in  sanctity,  and  abounding  in  a  harvest 
of  virtues. 

Stand,  therefore,  in  the  Church,  stand  where  I  appeared 
to  you,  there  I  am  with  you.  Where  the  Church  is,  there  is 
the  most  solid  lodging  for  your  mind;  there  is  the  foundation 
for  your  soul,  where  I  appeared  to  you  in  the  bush.  You  are 
the  bush,  I  am  fire.  Fire  is  in  the  bush,  I  in  your  flesh. 
Wherefore  I  am  the  fire  so  that  I  may  give  light  to  you,  and 
that  I  may  consume  your  thorns,  that  is,  your  sins,  and  that 
I  may  show  you  my  grace. 

Standing  firm  in  your  hearts,  rout  from  the  Church  the 
wolves  which  are  trying  to  carry  off  prey.  Let  there  be  no 
sloth  in  you,  let  not  your  mouth  be  evil,  nor  your  tongue 
bitter.  Sit  not  in  the  council  of  vanity,  for  it  is  written:  'I 
have  not  sat  in  the  council  of  vanity.'58  Listen  not  to  those 
who  disparage  their  neighbors,  lest  while  you  listen  to  others 
you  be  stirred  up  to  dishonor  your  neighbors  and  it  may  be 
said  to  each  one  of  you:  'Sitting  thou  didst  disparage  thy 
brother.'59 

Men  sit  when  they  disparage,  but  they  stand  when  they 
bless  the  Lord,  to  whom  it  is  said:  'Behold,  now  bless  ye  the 
Lord,  all  ye  servants  of  the  Lord,  who  stand  in  the  house  of 
the  Lord.'60  One  who  sits  (to  speak  of  the  bodily  habit)  is, 

56  Exod.  3.5. 

57  Deut.  5.31. 

58  Ps.  25.4. 

59  Ps.  49.20. 

60  Ps.  133.1,2. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  337 

as  it  were,  enervated,  when  the  body  is  idle  and  when  he 
relaxes  the  tension  of  his  mind.  But  a  cautious  watchman, 
an  active  searcher,  a  wide-awake  guard  before  the  camp, 
stands.  The  soldier  on  duty,  who  wishes  to  anticipate  the 
enemy's  designs,  stands  in  the  battle  line  before  he  is  expected. 

'Let  him  who  stands  take  heed  lest  he  fall.'61  One  who 
stands  knows  not  how  to  engage  in  detraction.  For  it  is  the 
tales  of  men  in  idleness  wherein  detraction  is  sown,  malice 
is  disclosed.  Therefore  the  Prophet  says:  'I  have  held  in 
hatred  the  company  of  malicious  men,  and  I  will  not  sit  with 
the  wicked.'62  And  in  Psalm  36,  which  he  has  filled  with 
moral  precepts,  he  has  put  right  at  the  beginning;  'Do  not 
be  malicious  among  the  malicious,  nor  envious  of  those  who 
do  iniquity.'63  Malignity  harms  more  than  malice,  for  malig- 
nity has  neither  pure  simplicity  nor  open  malice,  but  a  hidden 
ill-will.  It  is  more  difficult  to  guard  against  what  is  hidden 
than  against  what  is  known.  So  our  Saviour  warns  us  to 
beware  of  malignant  spirits,  because  they  would  capture  us 
under  the  guise  of  sweet  pleasures  and  a  show  of  other  things, 
when  they  hold  out  honor  to  entice  us  to  ambition,  riches  to 
entice  us  to  greed  and  power,  the  charm  of  pride. 

Therefore,  not  only  in  every  act,  but  especially  in  the 
demand  for  a  bishop,  malignity  should  have  no  place,  for  in 
him  the  life  of  all  is  formed;  so  that  he  is  a  man  preferred 
to  all  by  a  calm  and  peaceful  decision,  being  chosen  from 
among  all,  one  who  is  to  heal  all,  for:  The  meek  man  is  the 
healer  of  the  heart.'64  And  the  Lord  in  the  Gospel  calls 
Himself  this  healer,  saying:  clt  is  not  the  healthy  who  need 
a  physician,  but  they  who  are  sick.'65 

He  is  the  good  Physician,  who  has  taken  upon  Him  our 

61  1  Cor.  10.12. 

62  Ps.  25.5. 

63  Ps.  36.1. 

64  Prov.  14.30. 

65  Matt.  9.12. 


338  SAINT  AMBROSE 

infirmities,  has  healed  our  illnesses,  and  yet  He,  as  It  is 
written,  did  not  glorify  Himself  becoming  a  high  priest,  but 
He  who  spoke  to  Him,  the  Father,  said:  'Thou  art  my  son, 
I  this  day  have  begotten  thee.'  And  elsewhere  He  says:  Thou 
art  a  priest  forever  according  to  the  order  of  Melchisedech.' 
Since  He  was  to  be  the  type  of  all  priests  He  took  flesh,  so 
that  'in  the  days  of  his  flesh  with  a  loud  cry  and  tears  he 
offered  up  prayers  and  supplications  to  God  the  Father :  and 
from  those  things  which  he  suffered,  though  the  Son  of  God, 
he  learned  obedience  which  he  taught  to  us  so  that  he  might 
be  the  cause  of  our  eternal  salvation.'66  At  last,  when  His 
sufferings  were  completed,  as  though  completed  Himself,  He 
gave  health  to  all,  He  bore  the  sin  of  all 

So  He  Himself  also  chose  Aaron  as  priest,67  in  order  that 
not  man's  will  but  the  grace  of  God  should  have  chief  place 
in  the  election  of  a  priest,  not  the  voluntary  offering  of 
himself,  nor  the  taking  of  it  upon  himself,  but  the  heavenly 
call;  thus  he  may  offer  gifts  for  sins  who  can  compassionate 
sinners,  since  He  Himself,  he  says,  bears  our  weakness.  No 
one  ought  take  the  honor  to  himself,  but  be  called  by  God,  as 
was  Aaron.  Thus,  even  Christ  did  not  demand  but  received 
the  priesthood.68 

Lastly,  when  the  succession,  derived  through  family  descent 
from  Aaron,  contained  rather  heirs  of  the  family  than  sharers 
of  righteousness,  there  came,  in  the  type  of  that  Melchisedech 
of  whom  we  read  in  the  Old  Testament,  the  true, 
Melchisedech,  the  true  King  of  peace,  the  true  King  of  justice, 
for  his  name  is  interpreted :  'Without  father,  without  mother, 
without  genealogy,  having  neither  beginning  of  days  nor  end 
of  life.'69  This  refers  to  the  Son  of  God,  who  in  His  divine 

66  Heb.  5.5-9. 

67  Cf.  Num.  17.8. 

68  Ci:.  Heb.  5.2-4. 

69  Heb.  7.3. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  339 

generation  had  no  mother,  and  in  His  birth  from  the  Virgin 
Mary  had  no  father.  Begotten  of  the  Father  alone  before 
the  ages,  born  of  the  Virgin  alone  in  this  age,  surely  He 
could  have  no  beginning  of  days,  since  He  was  in  the 
beginning.  And  how  could  He  have  an  end  of  life,  since  He 
is  the  Author  of  life  to  all?  cHe  Himself  [is]  the  beginning 
and  the  end  of  all'70  But  this  is  also  referred  to  Him  as  an 
example,  that  a  priest  ought  to  be  without  father  and  mother, 
since  in  Him  is  chosen  not  nobility  of  family,  but  holiness  of 
character  and  pre-eminence  in  virtues. 

Let  there  be  in  him  faith  and  perfection  of  character,  not 
one  without  the  other,  but  let  both  meet  in  one  with  good 
works  and  deeds.  Therefore  the  Apostle  Paul  wishes  us  to  be 
imitators  of  those  who  through  faith,  he  says,  and  patience, 
possess  the  promises  made  to  Abraham,  who  by  patience 
was  worthy  to  receive  and  possess  the  grace  of  the  blessing 
promised  to  him.71  The  Prophet  David  bids  us  be  imitators 
of  holy  Aaron,  for  he  set  him  among  the  saints  of  the  Lord 
to  be  imitated  by  us,  saying:  'Moses  and  Aaron  are  among 
his  priests,  and  Samuel  among  them  who  call  upon  his 

379 

name.   w 

Plainly  he  is  a  man  worthy  of  being  set  before  all  to  be 
followed,  for,  when  a  dreadful  plague  spread  among  the 
people  because  of  stubborn  persons,  he  offered  himself  be- 
tween the  living  and  dead  so  that  he  might  restrain  the 
plague  and  that  no  more  persons  should  perish.73  Truly  is  he 
a  man  of  priestly  mind  and  spirit  who  with  dutiful  affection, 
like  a  good  shepherd,  offered  himself  for  the  flock  of  the 
Lord.  Thus  he  broke  the  sting  of  death,  checked  its  onslaught, 
refused  it  further  course.  Love  assisted  his  merits,  for  he 
offered  himself  in  behalf  of  those  who  were  resisting  him. 

70  Apoc.  1.8. 

71  Cf.  Heb.  11.9, 

72  Ps.  98.6. 

73  Cf.  Num.  16.46-48. 


340  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Let  those  who  cause  dissension  learn  to  fear  to  rouse  the 
Lord  and  to  appease  His  priests.  Why?  Did  not  an  earth- 
quake swallow  up  Dathan  and  Abiron  and  Core  because  oi 
their  dissensions?  For,  when  Core  and  Dathan  and  Abiron 
had  stirred  up  250  men  against  Moses  and  Aaron,  to  separate 
from  them,  they  rose  up  saying:  'Let  it  be  enough  for  you, 
that  all  the  congregation  are  holy,  and  the  Lord  among 
them.374 

Then  the  Lord  in  anger  spoke  to  all  the  congregation. 
The  Lord  considered  and  knew  who  were  His75  and  He 
drew  His  saints  to  Himself.  And  those  whom  He  did  not 
choose  He  did  not  draw  to  Himself.  And  the  Lord  bade 
Core  and  all  who  had  risen  up  with  him  against  Moses  and 
Aaron,  the  priests  of  the  Lord,  to  take  censers  and  put  on 
incense,  so  that  he  who  was  chosen  by  the  Lord  might  be 
established  as  holy  among  the  Levites  of  the  Lord. 

And  Moses  said  to  Core:  'Hear  ye  sons  of  Levi.  Is  it  a 
small  thing  unto  you,  that  God  has  separated  you  from  the 
congreation  of  Israel,  and  drawn  you  to  himself,  to  minister 
the  services  of  the  tabernacle  of  the  Lord?'  And  further  on: 
'Seek  ye  to  perform  your  priesthood,  as  you  and  all  the 
congregation  are  gathered  against  the  Lord?  For  what  is 
Aaron  that  you  murmur  against  him?'76 

Considering,  then,  what  causes  of  offense  existed,  that 
unworthy  persons  desired  to  discharge  the  office  of  priest,  and 
therefore  were  causing  dissension,  murmuring  in  censure  of 
the  judgment  of  God  in  the  choice  of  His  priest,  the  whole 
people  were  seized  with  great  fear  and  dread  of  punishment 
came  upon  all.  But  when  all  implored  that  all  should  not 
perish  through  the  insolence  of  a  few,  those  guilty  of  crime 
were  singled  out,  and  250  men  with  their  leaders  were 

74  Cf.  Num.  16.35,3. 

75  Cf.  2  Tim.  2.19. 

76  Num.  16.841. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  341 

separated  from  the  people,  the  earth  with  a  groan  was  rent 
in  the  midst  of  the  people,  a  deep  gulf  opened,  the  guilty  were 
swallowed  up,  and  these  were  removed  from  all  the  elements 
of  this  world,  so  they  might  neither  contaminate  the  air  by 
inhaling  it,  the  sky  by  beholding  it,  the  sea  by  touching  it, 
nor  the  earth  by  their  entombment. 

The  punishment  ended,  but  the  wickedness  did  not  end, 
for  there  arose  in  consequence  of  this  very  thing  a  great 
murmuring  on  the  part  of  the  people  that  these  persons  had 
perished  through  the  priests.  With  what  anger  the  Lord  would 
have  destroyed  them  all  had  He  not  been  swayed  first  by 
the  prayers  of  Moses  and  Aaron,  and  then  by  the  inter- 
vention of  His  high  priest  Aaron,  preferring  to  bestow  on 
them,  with  greater  humiliation  to  them,  the  grace  which 
they  had  spurned! 

Mary  the  prophetess,  who  with  her  brothers  had  crossed 
the  waters  of  the  sea  on  foot,  and,  because  she  did  not  yet 
know  the  mystery  of  the  Ethiopian  woman  and  had  mur- 
mured against  her  brother  Moses,  broke  out  with  leprous 
spots,  so  that  she  would  hardly  have  been  cured  of  the 
contagion  had  not  Moses  begged  it.77  Yet  that  murmuring 
refers  to  the  type  of  the  synagogue  which  does  not  know  the 
mystery  of  the  Ethiopian  woman,  that  is,  the  Church,  which 
is  taken  from  the  nations,  and  murmurs  with  daily  reproach, 
and  envies  this  people,  by  whose  faith  it  shall  be  delivered 
from  the  leprosy  of  unbelief,  in  accord  with  what  we  read: 
that  'a  partial  blindness  only  has  befallen  Israel,  until  the 
full  number  of  the  Gentiles  should  enter,  and  thus  all  Israel 
should  be  saved.'78 

And  that  we  may  observe  how  in  priests  divine  grace 
works  rather  than  human  grace,  of  the  many  rods  which 
Moses  had  received  from  tribes  and  had  laid  away,  that  of 

77  Cf.  Num.  12.10-15. 

78  Rom.  11.25. 


342  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Aaron  alone  blossomed.  Thus,  the  people  saw  that  the  gift 
of  the  divine  call  is  to  be  looked  for  in  a  priest,  and  they 
ceased  to  claim  equal  favor  for  a  human  choice,  although 
before  they  thought  they  had  a  similar  privilege.  What  did 
that  rod  show  except  that  the  priestly  grace  never  decays,  and 
in  the  deepest  lowliness  it  has  in  its  office  the  flower  of  power 
entrusted  to  it,  or  that  this  also  is  referred  to  in  mystery? 
Nor  do  we  think  this  happened  without  purpose,  toward 
the  end  of  the  life  of  Aaron  the  priest*  It  seems  to  be  manifest 
that  the  ancient  people,  decaying  by  reason  of  the  long- 
continued  unfaithfulness  of  their  priests,  formed  anew,  at 
last,  in  zeal  for  the  faith  and  devotion,  by  the  example  of 
the  Church,  will  again  send  forth  with  renewed  grace  the 
flower  dead  for  so  many  ages. 

But  what  is  meant  by  the  fact  that,  after  Aaron  was  dead, 
God  commanded  not  all  the  people,  but  only  Moses  who  is 
among  the  priests  of  the  Lord,  to  clothe  with  the  garments  of 
Aaron  the  priest,  his  son  Eleazar,79  except  that  we  should 
understand  that  a  priest  must  consecrate  a  priest,  and  he 
himself  clothe  him  with  the  vestments,  that  is,  with  priestly 
virtues;  then,  if  he  sees  that  he  lacks  none  of  the  priestly 
garments,  and  all  things  are  in  good  order,  he  admits  him  to 
the  sacred  altars.  One  who  is  to  make  supplication  for  the 
people  should  be  chosen  by  the  Lord  and  approved  by  the 
priests,  so  there  may  be  nothing  which  may  give  serious 
offence  in  him  whose  duty  it  is  to  intercede  for  the  offences 
of  others.  The  priestly  virtue  is  of  no  ordinary  kind,  for  he 
has  to  beware  of  taking  part  not  only  in  more  serious  faults, 
but  even  in  the  least.  He  must  be  prompt  to  show  mercy,  not 
regret  a  promise,  recall  the  fallen,  have  sympathy  with  pain, 
preserve  meekness,  love  piety,  repel  or  quell  anger;  let  him 
be  like  a  trumpet  urging  the  people  to  devotion,  exalting 
them  to  tranquility. 

79  Cf.  Num.  20.26. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  343 

The  old  saying  is:  'Accustom  yourself  to  being  consistent, 
so  that  your  life  will  set  forth  as  it  were  a  picture,  always 
preserving  the  same  likeness  which  it  received.3  How  can  he 
be  consistent  who  is  at  one  time  aflame  with  anger,  at  another 
seething  with  fierce  indignation,  now  with  face  aglow,  now 
changed  to  paleness,  varying  and  changing  color  every 
moment?  But,  granted  that  it  is  natural  to  be  angry,  or 
that  there  generally  is  good  reason  therefor,  it  is  man's  duty 
to  temper  wrath;  not  to  be  carried  away  with  the  fury  of  a 
lion,  not  knowing  how  to  be  gentle;  not  spreading  tales,  nor 
engendering  family  quarrels,  for  it  is  written:  CA  passionate 
man  diggeth  up  sin.'80  He  that  is  double-minded  is  not  con- 
sistent, nor  is  he  consistent  who  knows  not  how  to  check  him- 
self in  anger,  of  whom  David  aptly  says:  'Be  angry,  and  sin 
not.'81  He  does  not  control  anger  but  gives  way  to  nature, 
which  man  cannot  prevent  but  can  moderate.  Therefore, 
although  we  are  angry,  let  our  passion  give  vent  to  natural 
emotion,  not  to  unnatural  sin.  For  who  would  permit  one 
who  cannot  govern  himself  to  receive  others  to  govern? 

Therefore,  the  Apostle  has  provided  a  pattern,  saying  that 
a  bishop  must  be  blameless,82  and  elsewhere  he  says:  Tor  a 
bishop  must  be  blameless  as  being  the  steward  of  God,  not 
proud,  or  ill-tempered,  or  a  drinker,  or  a  brawler,  or  greedy 
for  base  gain.'83  How  can  the  compassion  of  one  who  dis- 
tributes alms  and  the  greed  of  a  covetous  man  agree  with 
one  another? 

I  have  set  down  what  I  have  learned  to  avoid,  but  the 
Apostle  is  the  master  of  virtues  who  instructs  us  to  refute 
those  who  gainsay  us  with  patience,  who  lays  down  the  rule 
that  he  be  the  husband  of  one  wife,84  not  in  order  to  exclude 

80  Prov.  15.18. 

81  Ps.  4.5. 

82  Cf.  1  Tim.  3.2. 

83  Titus  1.7. 

84  Cf.  Titus  1.6. 


344  SAINT  AMBROSE 

him  from  the  privilege  of  marriage  (for  this  is  beyond  the 
force  of  the  precept),  but  that  he  may  by  conjugal  chastity 
preserve  the  grace  of  his  baptism;  or,  again,  that  he  be 
induced  by  the  Apostle's  authority  to  beget  children,  for  he 
speaks  of  having  sons,  not  entering  or  repeating  marriage. 

I  have  not  passed  over  this  point,  because  many  persons 
contend  that  the  husband  of  one  wife  has  reference  to  the 
time  after  baptism,  so  that  any  impediment  which  would 
ensue  would  be  washed  away  in  baptism.  Indeed,  all  faults 
and  sins  are  washed  away,  so  that,  if  one  has  polluted  his 
body  by  many  whom  he  has  not  bound  to  himself  by  the 
marriage  law,  these  are  all  forgiven  him.  But  the  marriages 
are  not  done  away  with  if  he  has  made  a  second  contract, 
for  sin,  not  the  law,  is  loosed  by  the  laver  [of  baptism].  There 
is  no  sin  in  marriage,  but  there  is  a  law.  Whatever  is  of  law, 
therefore,  is  not  remitted  like  a  sin,  but  it  is  retained,  like  a 
law.  Therefore,  the  Apostle  laid  down  the  law  saying:  'If 
anyone  is  without  reproach,  the  husband  of  one  wife.585 
Whoever,  then,  is  without  reproach,  the  husband  of  one  wife, 
is  included  among  those  held  by  the  law  to  be  qualified  for 
the  priesthood,  but  he  who  entered  a  second  marriage  has 
not  the  guilt  of  pollution,  though  he  is  disqualified  from  the 
privilege  of  the  priesthood.86 

Having  stated  what  is  lawful,  let  us  state  in  addition  what 
is  reasonable.  Let  us  understand,  first  of  all,  that  not  only 
did  the  Apostle  lay  down  rules  covering  a  bishop  and  priest, 
but  the  Fathers,  also,  in  the  Council  of  Nicaea,87  added  the 
mandate  that  no  one  who  has  contracted  a  second  marriage 
should  be  admitted  to  the  clergy.  How  can  he  console  or 
honor  a  widow,  or  urge  her  to  preserve  her  widowhood,  or 

85  1  Tim.  3.2. 

86  See  Tertullian,  Ad  uxorem  2.7. 

87  That  a  decree  of  the  Council  o£  Nicaea  forbade  clergy  to  be  drawn 
from  those  who  had  contracted  a  second  marriage  is  not  among  the 
canons. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  345 

the  faith  pledged  to  her  husband,  which  he  himself  has  not 
kept  in  regard  to  his  first  marriage?  Or  what  would  be  the 
difference  between  priest  and  people  if  they  were  bound  by 
the  same  laws?  The  life  of  a  priest  ought  to  surpass  others  as  its 
grace  surpasses,  and  he  who  binds  others  by  his  precepts  ought 
himself  to  keep  the  precepts  of  the  law  in  himself. 

How  I  fought  against  being  ordained!  And,  finally,  when 
I  was  compelled,  I  tried  at  least  to  have  the  ordination 
deferred!  But  the  prescribed  rule  did  not  avail,  pressure 
prevailed.  Yet  the  Western  bishops  approved  my  ordination 
by  their  decision,  and  the  Eastern  bishops,  too,  by  their 
examples.88  Yet  the  ordination  of  a  new  convert  is  prohibited 
lest  he  be  lifted  up  by  pride.89  If  the  ordination  was  not 
postponed  it  was  because  of  constraint,  and  if  humility  which 
is  becoming  to  the  priesthood  is  not  wanting,  where  there  is 
no  cause,  blame  will  not  be  imputed. 

Now,  if  in  other  churches  so  much  consideration  attends 
the  ordination  of  a  bishop,  how  much  care  is  needed  in  the 
church  at  Vercelli  where  two  things  seem  to  be  equally 
demanded  of  the  bishop,  the  restraint  of  the  monastery  and 
the  discipline  of  the  Church?  These  matters  so  different, 
Eusebius  of  holy  memory  was  the  first  in  the  lands  of  the 
West  to  bring  together,  so  that  living  in  the  city  he  observed 
the  rules  of  the  monks,  and  ruled  the  Church  in  the  temper- 
ance of  fasting.90  For,  one  brings  much  support  to  the  grace 
of  the  priesthood  if  he  binds  youth  to  the  practice  of 
abstinence  and  to  the  rule  of  purity,  and  forbids  them,  even 
though  living  in  the  city,  the  manners  and  mode  of  the  city. 

Hence  came  that  procession  of  heroes — Elias,  Eliseus,  John, 
son  of  Elizabeth — who,  clothed  in  sheepskins  and  goatskins, 

88  In  the  election  of  Nectarius  as  Bishop  of  Constantinople.  Cf.  above, 
Letter  42  n.  3. 

89  Cf.  1  Tim.  3.6. 

90  Like  Eusebius,  Ambrose   had   the  clergy  living   with   him    after   the 
death  of  his  brother  Satyrus. 


346  SAINT  AMBROSE 

poor  and  needy,  afflicted  with  distress  and  pain,  wandered 
in  deserts  among  steep  and  wooded  mountains,  pathless  rocks, 
rough  coves,  marshy  pitfalls,  of  whom  the  world  was  not 
worthy.  Hence  came  Daniel,  Ananias,  Azarias,  Misael,  who 
were  reared  in  a  royal  palace,  were  fed  with  fasting,  as 
though  in  the  desert,  with  coarse  food  and  ordinary  drink. 
Rightly  did  these  royal  slaves  prevail  over  kingdoms,  despise 
captivity,  shaking  off  its  yoke,  subdue  powers,  overcome  the 
elements,  quench  the  nature  of  fire,  dull  the  flames,  blunt 
the  edge  of  the  sword,  stop  the  mouths  of  lions.  They  were 
found  most  strong  when  they  were  esteemed  most  weak; 
they  fled  not  from  the  mocking  of  men,  for  they  hoped  for 
heavenly  rewards;  they  did  not  dread  the  darkness  of  prison, 
for  on  them  shone  the  beauty  of  eternal  light. 

In  imitation  of  these  blessed  Eusebius  left  his  country  and 
his  family  and  preferred  living  in  foreign  lands  to  ease  at 
home.  For  the  faith,  too,  he  preferred  and  chose  the  hard- 
ships of  exile,  and  Dionysius  of  holy  memory  joined  him,  he 
who  esteemed  the  emperor's  friendship  less  than  voluntary 
exile.  Thus  these  illustrious  men,  when  armed  bands  sur- 
rounded them  and  an  army  closed  in  on  them,  when  they 
were  torn  from  the  great  Church,  triumphed  over  the 
imperial  power,  for  by  these  hardships  on  earth  they  pur- 
chased fortitude  of  spirit  and  kingly  power.  Those  from 
whom  the  band  of  soldiers  and  din  of  arms  could  not  tear  the 
faith  subdued  the  raging  of  a  bestial  spirit  which  could  not 
harm  the  saints.  For,  as  you  have  in  Proverbs :  eAs  the  roaring 
of  a  lion,  so  also  is  the  anger  of  a  king.391 

He  [the  emperor]  admitted  he  was  beaten  when  he  asked 
them  to  change  their  opinion,  but  they  thought  their  pen 
was  mightier  than  a  sword  of  iron.  Then  was  unbelief  so 
damaged  that  it  fell;  the  faith  of  the  saints  was  undamaged. 
They  desired  no  tomb  in  their  native  country,  for  a  dwelling 

91  Prov.  19.12. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  347 

in  heaven  was  waiting  for  them.  They  wandered  over  the 
whole  earth,  as  having  nothing,  and  possessing  all  things.92 
Wherever  they  were  sent  they  looked  upon  it  as  a  place  of 
delight,  for,  being  rich  in  faith,  they  were  in  want  of  nothing. 
They  even  enriched  others,  being  poor  themselves  in  earthly 
means,  but  rich  in  grace.  They  were  tried  but  not  destroyed 
in  fasting,  in  labors,  in  prisons,  in  watchings.  From  weakness 
they  emerged  strong.93  They  did  not  await  the  enticement  of 
pleasures,  for  hunger  fattened  them;  the  parching  heat  of 
summer  did  not  bum  those  whom  the  hope  of  everlasting 
grace  refreshed;  nor  did  the  cold  of  icy  lands  break  them 
whose  devotion  ever  budded  afresh  with  glowing  fervor.  They 
did  not  fear  the  chains  of  men,  for  Jesus  had  set  them  free; 
they  wanted  not  to  be  rescued  from  death,  for  they  expected 
to  be  raised  again  by  Christ. 

At  last,  blessed  Dionysius  begged  in  prayer  that  he  might 
lay  down  his  life  in  exile,  fearing  lest  on  his  return  home  he 
would  find  the  minds  of  people  or  clergy  disturbed  by  the 
teaching  practice  of  unbelievers,  and  he  obtained  this  favor, 
so  that  he  bore  within  him  in  a  calm  heart  the  peace  of  the 
Lord.  Therefore,  as  blessed  Eusebius  first  raised  the  standard 
of  suffering,  so  blessed  Dionysius  in  the  land  of  exile  gave  up 
his  life  with  higher  honor  than  the  martyrs. 

This  patience  in  blessed  Eusebius  was  nourished  by  the 
discipline  of  the  monastery,  and  from  the  custom  of  yet 
harsher  observance  he  derived  the  power  of  enduring  labors. 
Who  doubts  that  in  stricter  Christian  devotion  these  two 
qualities  are  the  more  excellent:  the  duties  of  clerics  and  the 
customs  of  monks?  The  one  is  a  discipline  which  trains  for 
courtesy  and  morality,  the  other  for  abstinence  and  patience; 
the  one  as  on  an  open  stage,  the  other  in  secrecy;  the  one  is 
observed,  the  other  is  hidden  from  sight.  So  that  good  athlete 

92  Cf.  2  Cor.  6.10. 

93  Cf.  Heb,  11.34, 


348  SAINT  AMBROSE 

says:  'We  have  been  made  a  spectacle  to  this  world  and  to 
angels.'94  Surely  he  was  worthy  of  being  observed  by  angels, 
while  he  was  striving  to  reach  the  goal  of  Christ,  while  he 
strove  to  lead  the  life  of  angels  on  earth  and  overcome  the 
spiritual  wickedness  on  high,  for  he  wrestled  with  spiritual 
forces  of  wickedness.95  He  deserved  to  have  the  world  gaze 
on  him  that  the  world  might  imitate  him. 

The  one  life,  then,  is  in  the  arena,  the  other  in  a  cave;96 
the  one  is  opposed  to  the  confusion  of  the  world,  the  other  to 
the  desires  of  the  flesh;  the  one  subdues,  the  other  flees  the 
pleasures  of  the  body;  the  one  more  agreeable,  the  other 
safer;  the  one  ruling,  the  other  reigning  in  self;  yet  each 
denying  herself  that  she  may  be  Christ's,  because  to  the  perfect 
it  was  said:  clf  anyone  wishes  to  come  after  me,  let  him 
deny  himself,  and  take  up  his  cross,  and  follow  me.'97  He 
follows  Christ  who  can  say:  'It  is  now  no  longer  I  that  live, 
but  Christ  lives  in  me.'98 

Paul  denied  himself  when,  aware  that  chains  and  great 
tribulations  awaited  him  in  Jerusalem,  he  willingly  offered 
himself  to  danger,  saying:  'Nor  do  J  count  my  life  more 
precious  than  myself,  if  only  I  may  accomplish  my  course 
and  the  ministry  of  the  word  which  I  have  received  from 
the  Lord  Jesus.599  And  finally,  when  many  stood  about  weep- 
ing and  entreating  him,  he  did  not  change  his  mind,  so  rigid 
a  judge  of  itself  is  ready  faith. 

The  one,  therefore,  struggles,  the  other  withdraws;  the  one 
overcomes  enticements,  the  other  flees  them;  for  the  one  the 
world  is  a  triumph,  to  the  other  a  place  of  exile;  to  the  one 
the  world  is  crucified100  and  itself  to  the  world,  to  the  other 

94  1  Cor.  4.9. 

95  Cf.  Eph.  6.12. 

96  This  and  the  next  two  paragraphs  contain  a  beautifully  written  con- 
trast of  the  active  and  contemplative  life. 

97  Matt.  16.24. 

98  Gal.  2.20. 

99  Acts  20.24. 
100  Cf.  Gal.  6.14. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  349 

it  is  unknown;  the  one  has  more  trials,  and  so  a  greater 
victory;  the  other  falls  less  often,  and  keeps  guard  more 
easily. 

Elias  himself,  that  the  word  of  his  lips  might  be  confirmed, 
was  sent  by  the  Lord  to  hide  himself  near  the  torrent 
Carith.101  Achab  made  threats;  Jezabel  made  threats.  Elias 
grew  afraid  and  rose  up,  and  in  the  strength  of  that  spiritual 
food  he  walked  for  forty  days  and  forty  nights  to  the  mount 
of  God,  Horeb,  and  he  entered  a  cave  and  abode  there.102 
Later  he  was  sent  to  anoint  kings,  for  he  was  inured  to 
patience  by  dwelling  in  lonely  places,  and,  as  if  supplied  with 
the  fatness  of  virtue  by  his  rough  food,  he  went  on  stronger. 

John,  too,  grew  up  in  the  desert,  and  he  baptized  the 
Lord,103  and  there  he  first  practiced  that  austerity  that  later 
he  might  rebuke  the  king. 

Since  in  speaking  of  blessed  Elias'  dwelling  in  the  desert  we 
have  idly  passed  over  names  of  places  not  given  without  a 
purpose,  it  seems  fitting  to  go  back  to  what  they  mean. 
Elias  was  sent  to  the  torrent  of  Horeb  where  ravens  fed  him, 
brought  him  bread  in  the  morning  and  flesh  in  the  eve- 
ning.104 Not  without  cause  was  bread  brought  in  the  morning, 
for  it  strenghtens  man's  heart.105  And  how  was  the  Prophet 
fed  if  not  with  mystical  food?  At  evening  flesh  was  served 
him.  Understand  what  you  read,  for  Carith  means  'under- 
standing' ;  Horeb  means  'every  heart,'  or  cas  a  heart' ;  Bersabee 
is  interpreted  cof  the  seventh  well'  or,  in  Latin,  cof  an  oath.' 

Elias  went  first  to  Bersabee,  to  the  mysteries  of  the  holy 
law,  to  the  sacraments  of  divine  justice;  later  he  was  sent  to 
the  torrent,  to  that  river's  stream  which  gladdens  the  city  of 
God.106  You  have  both  Testaments  of  the  one  author,  the  old 

101  Cf.  3  Kings  17.3. 

102  Cf.  3  Kings  19.8,9. 

103  a.  Luke  3.2,19. 

104  Cf.  3  Kings  17.6. 

105  Cf.  Ps.  103.15. 

106  Cf.  Ps.  45.5. 


350  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Scripture  like  a  well,  deep  and  obscure,  whence  you  draw 
with  difficulty,  not  full,  because  the  one  who  was  to  fill  it  had 
not  yet  come.  Then  later  he  says:  CI  have  not  come  to  destroy 
the  Law,  but  to  fulfill  it.5107  Thus  the  holy  one  is  bidden  by 
the  Lord  to  cross  over  to  the  stream,108  for  he  who  has 
drunk  of  the  New  Testament  not  only  is  a  river,  but  from 
his  belly  will  flow  rivers  of  living  water,109  rivers  of  under- 
standing, rivers  of  meditation,  spiritual  rivers.  However,  these 
dried  up  in  the  time  of  unbelief,  lest  the  sacrilegeous  would 
drink  and  lest  unbelievers  sup. 

There  the  ravens  recognized  the  Prophet  of  the  Lord, 
whom  the  Jews  did  not  recognize.  Crows  fed  the  one  whom 
a  royal  and  noble  race  was  persecuting.  What  is  Jezabel  who 
persecuted110  except  the  synagogue  spreading  in  vain,  in  vain 
abounding  in  the  Scriptures  which  she  neither  guards  nor 
understands?  What  ravens  fed  him  but  those  whose  young 
call  him,  whose  cattle  he  feeds,  as  we  read:  sto  the  young 
ravens  that  cry  to  him?'111  Those  ravens  knew  whom  they 
were  feeding,  for  they  were  close  to  understanding  and  carried 
the  food  to  that  stream  of  sacred  knowledge. 

He  feeds  the  Prophet  who  understands  and  guards  that 
which  was  written.  Our  faith  gives  him  sustenance;  our 
progress  gives  him  nourishment;  he  feeds  upon  our  minds  and 
thoughts;  his  speech  is  fed  with  our  understanding.  We 
give  him  bread  in  the  morning,  when,  lying  in  the  light  of  the 
Gospel,  we  bring  him  the  strength  of  our  hearts.  By  these  he 
is  fed,  by  these  he  grows  strong,  with  these  he  fills  the  mouths 
of  those  who  fast,  to  whom  the  faithlessness  of  the  Jews  served 
not  the  food  of  faith.  There,  every  word  of  the  Prophet  is  a 

107  Matt.  5.17. 

108  Cf.  3  Kings  17.3. 

109  Cf.  John  7.38. 

110  Cf.  3  Kings  19.2. 

111  Ps.  146.9. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  351 

fasting  diet,  for  they  do  not  see  the  interior  fatness;  it  is 
empty  and  thin  and  cannot  fatten  their  jaws. 

Perhaps,  too,  they  brought  the  flesh  at  night,  as  stronger 
food,  such  as  the  Corinthians,  whose  minds  were  weak,  could 
not  take,  and  were  fed  therefore  with  the  milk  of  the 
Apostle.112  Thus,  stronger  food  was  brought  at  the  evening  of 
this  world,  bread  in  the  morning.  And  because  the  Lord 
commanded  this  food  to  be  served,  that  prophetic  saying 
may  well  suit  him  in  this  place:  'Thou  wilt  give  joy  at  the 
going  out  of  mornings  and  evenings,5  and  below:  'Thou  hast 
prepared  their  food,  for  so  is  its  preparation.'113 

Enough,  I  think,  has  been  said  of  our  Master;  let  us  now 
go  to  the  life  of  the  disciples  who  have  engaged  themselves 
in  that  praise,  celebrating  it  with  hymns  day  and  night.  This 
is  the  service  of  the  angels,  to  be  always  occupied  with  the 
praises  of  God,  to  propitiate  and  beseech  the  Lord  with  fre- 
quent prayers.  They  devote  themselves  to  reading,  or  busy 
their  minds  with  continual  labors,  and,  removed  from  women, 
they  provide  a  safeguard  for  one  another.  What  a  life  is  this  in 
which  there  is  nothing  to  fear  and  much  to  imitate!  The 
hardship  of  fasting  is  compensated  by  tranquility  of  mind, 
it  is  lightened  by  practice,  it  is  aided  by  leisure,  or  beguiled 
by  occupation;  it  is  not  burdened  by  the  cares  of  the  world, 
or  occupied  with  others'  troubles,  or  weighted  down  by  the 
distractions  of  the  city. 

You  realize  what  sort  of  teacher  must  be  found  for  the 
preservation  or  teaching  of  this  task,  whom  we  can  find  if 
your  unanimity  shows  us  favor,  if  you  forgive  one  another,  if 
any  one  thinks  he  has  been  hurt  by  the  other.114  This  is  not 
the  only  pattern  for  righteousness,  not  to  hurt  one  who  has 
not  hurt  you,  but  also  that  of  forgiving  one  who  has  hurt 

112  Ct  I  Cor.  3.2. 

113  Ps.  64.9,10. 

114  Cf.  Eph.  4.32. 


352  SAINT  AMBROSE 

you.  We  are  generally  hurt  by  another's  deceit,  by  our 
neighbor's  guile.  Shall  we  think  it  virtue  to  avenge  guile  with 
guile,  to  repay  deceit  with  deceit?  If  righteousness  is  a  virtue, 
it  should  be  free  from  reproach;  nor  should  it  ward  of  wicked- 
ness by  wickedness.  What  virtue  is  it  for  you  to  punish  others 
for  the  same  things  you  do?  That  is  only  spreading  wickedness, 
not  avenging  it.  It  makes  no  difference  whom  you  mistreat,  a 
just  man  or  an  unjust  one,  since  mistreatment  is  not  permitted 
you.  Nor  is  there  a  difference  in  how  you  are  ill-willed, 
whether  out  of  desire  to  avenge  or  a  wish  to  injure,  since  in 
either  case  it  is  not  without  reproach.  Being  so,  one  is  the 
same  as  unjust,  so  it  is  said  to  you :  cBe  not  ill- willed  because 
of  evildoers,  nor  envious  of  them  that  work  iniquity,'115  and 
above  he  says  the  same:  'I  hate  the  company  of  them  that  do 
evil.'116  Of  course,  he  included  everyone,  he  excepted  no  one; 
he  mentioned  ill-will,  he  asked  not  the  cause. 

What  better  pattern  of  righteousness  is  there  than  the 
divine,  for  the  Son  of  God  says:  'Love  your  enemies'  and 
again:  Tray  for  those  who  persecute  and  calumniate  you.'117 
He  so  far  removes  from  the  perfect  the  desire  for  vengeance 
that  He  commands  charity  for  those  who  do  them  harm.  And 
since  He  had  said  in  the  old  Scriptures:  'Revenge  is  mine 
and  I  will  repay,'118  He  says  in  the  Gospel  that  we  must  pray 
for  those  who  have  done  us  harm,  so  that  He  who  said  He 
will  have  to  punish  will  not  punish  them;  it  is  His  wish  to 
pardon  by  your  consent  with  which  He  agrees  according  to 
His  promise.  For,  if  you  seek  revenge,  you  know  that  the 
unrighteous  is  punished  more  severely  by  his  own  convictions 
than  by  the  severity  of  his  judges. 

Since  no  one  can  be  without  some  trouble,  let  us  strive  not 

115  Ps.  36.9. 

116  Ps.  25.5. 

117  Matt.  5.44. 

118  Deut.  32.35. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  353 

to  have  our  troubles  caused  by  our  sin.  And  no  one  is  so 
severely  condemned  by  another's  judgment  as  the  fool  by  his 
own,  for  he  is  the  author  of  his  own  evils.  Therefore,  let  us 
keep  away  from  tasks  which  are  troublesome  and  fraught 
with  discord,  having  no  advantage,  producing  only  added 
weight.  Yet,  we  should  live  so  as  not  to  regret  our  decisions 
or  our  actions.  A  wise  man  usually  looks  ahead,  so  he  will 
not  often  have  to  repent,  for  only  God  never  repents.  What 
is  the  advantage  of  righteousness  but  peace  of  mind?  What 
is  the  meaning  of  living  righteously  but  living  with  peace?  As 
the  pattern  of  the  master  is,  so  is  the  condition  of  the  whole 
house.  If  these  are  needed  for  a  home,  how  much  more  for  the 
Church,  'Where  there  is  rich  and  poor,  slave  and  freeman, 
Greek  and  Syrian,  patrician  and  plebeian,  we  are  all  one  in 
Christ.'119 

Let  no  one  think  that  he  is  to  be  paid  more  deference 
because  he  is  rich.120  In  the  Church  a  man  is  rich  if  he  is 
rich  in  faith,  for  the  faithful  man  has  a  whole  world  of  riches. 
Is  it  strange  that  the  faithful  man  owns  the  world,  since  he 
owns  Christ's  inheritance,  which  is  more  priceless  than  the 
world?  'You  were  redeemed  with  the  precious  blood'  surely 
was  said  to  all,  not  only  to  the  rich.  But,  if  you  wish  to  be 
rich,  follow  Him  who  says:  'Be  you  also  holy  in  all  your 
behavior.'  This  He  says  not  only  to  the  rich  but  to  all,  because 
He  judges  without  respect  of  persons  as  His  faithful  witness, 
the  Apostle,  says:  'Spend  the  time  of  your  sojourning  not  in 
luxury,  nor  in  fastidiousness,  nor  haughtiness  of  heart,  but  in 
fear.'121  You  have  been  given  time  on  this  earth,  not  eternity; 
use  the  time  as  those  who  know  they  are  going  to  set  out 
from  here. 

Trust  not  in  riches,  because  they  must  all  be  left  here; 

119  Col.  3.11. 

120  Cf.  Prov.  17.5. 

121  1  Peter  1.18,19,15,17. 


354  SAINT  AMBROSE 

only  faith  will  go  with  you.  Righteousness  will  be  your 
companion  if  faith  leads  the  way.  Why  do  riches  flatter  you? 
'You  were  not  redeemed  with  gold  or  silver,'  with  possessions 
or  silk  garments,  'from  your  vain  manner  of  life,  but  by  the 
precious  blood  of  Christ  Jesus.'122  He  is.  rich  who  is  an  heir 
of  God,  a  joint-heir  of  Christ.  Despise  not  a  poor  man,  for 
He  made  you  rich.  Despise  not  a  man  in  want,  for  'The 
poor  man  cried,  and  the  Lord  heard.'123  Reject  not  the  needy, 
for  Christ  even  became  poor  although  He  was  rich,  but  He 
became  poor  for  you  so  that  He  might  with  His  poverty 
enrich  you.  Exalt  not  yourself  as  rich;  He  sent  forth  His 
Apostles  without  money. 

And  the  first  of  them  said:  'Silver  and  gold  I  have  none.'124 
He  glories  in  poverty  as  if  escaping  contamination.  'Silver 
and  gold,'  says  he,  'I  have  none,'  not  gold  and  silver.  He 
does  not  know  their  order,  for  he  does  not  know  their  use. 
'Silver  and  gold  I  have  none,  but  faith  I  do  have.  I  am  rich 
enough  in  the  name  of  Jesus,  which  is  above  every  name.'125 
I  have  not  silver,  neither  do  I  desire  it;  I  have  not  gold, 
neither  do  I  want  it.  But  I  have  what,  you  rich  men  do  not 
have,  I  have  what  even  you  consider  of  more  value,  and  I 
give  it  to  the  poor,  so  that  I  say  in  the  name  of  Jesus: 
'Strengthen  ye  feeble  hands,  and  weak  knees.'126 

But,  if  you  wish  to  be  rich,  you  must  be  poor.  Then  you 
will  be  rich  in  all  things,  if  you  are  poor  in  spirit.  Not 
property,  but  the  spirit,  makes  one  rich. 

There  are  some  who  abase  themselves  amid  many  riches, 
and  they  do  so  rightly  and  wisely,  for  the  law  of  nature  is 
sufficiently  rich  to  all,  whereby  one  quickly  finds  what  is  more 
than  enough,  but  for  lust  all  the  abundance  of  riches  is 

122  1  Peter  1.18,19. 

123  Ps.  33.7. 

124  Acts  3.6. 

125  Cf.  Phil.  2.9. 

126  Isa.  35.3. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  355 

poverty.  Finally,  no  one  is  born  poor,  he  becomes  so.  Poverty 
is  not  in  nature,  but  in  our  feelings;  therefore  it  is  easy  for 
nature  to  be  found  rich,  difficult  for  greed  to  be  so.  For,  the 
more  each  one  acquires,  the  more  he  thirsts  and  is  parched 
by  a  certain  intoxication  of  his  desire. 

Why  do  you  seek  for  a  heap  of  riches  as  if  it  were 
necessary?  Nothing  is  so  necessary  as  to  know  what  is  not 
necessary.  Why  do  you  turn  the  blame  upon  the  flesh?  It  is 
not  the  belly  of  the  body,  but  greed  of  mind  that  makes  a 
man  unsatisfied.  Does  the  flesh  take  away  the  hope  of  the 
future?  Does  the  flesh  destroy  the  sweetness  of  spiritual  grace? 
Does  the  flesh  hinder  faith?  Does  the  flesh  concede  anything 
to  vain  opinions,  as  to  harsh  masters?  Rather  does  the  flesh 
love  moderate  frugality,  by  which  it  is  stripped  of  a  burden, 
and  is  clothed  in  good  health,  because  it  lays  down  its 
concern  and  takes  on  tranquility. 

Riches  themselves  are  not  to  be  censured.  'The  ransom  of 
a  man's  life  are  his  riches,3127  for  one  who  gives  to  the  poor 
ransoms  his  soul.  Therefore,  even  in  riches  there  is  scope 
for  virtue.  You  are  like  helmsmen  on  a  great  sea.  If  one  steers 
his  course  well,  he  passes  quickly  over  the  sea  to  reach  harbor. 
But  one  who  does  not  know  how  to  manage  his  property  is 
drowned  by  his  load.  Therefore  it  is  written:  'The  substance 
of  the  rich  is  a  very  strong  city.'128 

What  is  that  city  but  Jerusalem  which  is  in  heaven  where 
there  is  the  kingdom  of  God?  This  is  the  good  possession 
which  produces  everlasting  fruit;  the  good  possession  which 
is  not  left  here,  but  is  possessed  there.  One  who  will  have  this 
possession  says:  The  Lord  is  my  portion.'129  He  says  not: 
My  portion  extends  from  this  boundary  to  that.  He  says  not: 
My  portion  is  among  certain  neighbors,  except,  perhaps, 

127  Prov.  13.8. 

128  Prov.  10.15. 

129  Ps.  72.26. 


356  SAINT  AMBROSE 

among  the  Apostles,  among  the  Prophets,  among  the  Lord's 
saints.  This  is  the  righteous  man's  portion.  He  says  not:  My 
portion  is  in  meadows,  in  forests,  in  plains,  except  perhaps  in 
the  plains  of  the  forest  where  is  found  the  Church  of  which  it 
is  written:  'We  have  found  it  in  the  fields  of  the  forest/130 
He  says  not:  My  portion  consists  of  herds  of  horses,  for 
'Untrustworthy  is  the  steed  for  safety.'131  He  says  not:  My 
portion  consists  of  herds  of  oxen,  asses,  or  sheep,  except, 
perhaps,  he  counts  himself  among  those  herds  which  know 
their  owner,  and  wishes  to  consort  with  that  ass  which  does 
not  shun  the  crib  of  Christ,132  and  that  sheep  is  his  portion 
which  was  led  to  the  slaughter  and  the  'Lamb  which  was 
dumb  before  his  shearer  and  did  not  open  his  mouth,'133  in 
whose  humiliation  judgment  has  been  exalted.  Well  does  he 
say:  'Before  his  shearer,5  because  He  laid  on  the  cross  what 
was  superfluous,  not  His  own  essence;  when  He  was  stripped 
of  His  body,  He  did  not  lose  His  Godhead. 

Not  everyone,  therefore,  says:  'The  Lord  is  my  portion.' 
The  greedy  man  does  not  say  this,  because  greed  comes  and 
says:  You  are  my  portion;  I  have  you  under  my  sway,  you 
are  become  my  slave,  you  sold  yourself  to  me  in  that  gold  of 
yours,  you  turned  yourself  over  to  me  in  that  possession  of 
yours.  The  luxury-loving  man  does  not  say:  Christ  is  my 
portion,  because  luxury  comes  and  says:  You  are  my  portion; 
I  made  you  my  slave  in  that  banquet,  I  caught  you  in  the 
net  of  those  feasts,  I  have  you  bound  to  payment  by  the 
surety  of  your  gluttony.  Do  you  not  know  that  you  valued 
your  table  more  than  your  life?  I  convict  you  by  your  own 
judgment.  Deny  it  if  you  can,  but  you  cannot.  Finally,  you 
kept  nothing  for  life,  you  spent  all  for  your  table.  The 

130*  Ps,  131,6, 

131  Ps.  32.17. 

132  Cf.  Isa.  1.3. 

133  Isa.  53.7. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  357 

adulterer  cannot  say:  'The  Lord  is  my  portion/  because 
passion  comes  and  says:  I  am  your  portion;  you  bound 
yourself  to  me  by  your  love  for  that  maiden,  by  a  night  with 
a  harlot  you  came  under  my  laws  and  into  my  power.  The 
traitor  does  not  say:  Christ  is  my  portion,  because  at  once 
the  vileness  of  sin  rushes  upon  him  and  says :  He  is  deceiving 
you,  Lord  Jesus,  he  is  mine. 

This  example  we  have,134  that,  when  Judas  had  received 
the  bread  from  Christ,  the  Devil  entered  his  heart,  as  if 
claiming  his  possession,  as  if  retaining  his  right  to  his  portion, 
as  if  saying:  'He  is  not  Yours,  but  mine;  indeed  he  is  my 
tool,  Your  betrayer;  plainly  he  is  mine.  He  reclines  with  You, 
and  serves  me;  he  dines  with  You,  and  eats  with  me;  from 
You  he  took  bread,  from  me  money;  he  drinks  with  You,  and 
sells  me  Your  Blood.'  And  he  proved  how  true  were  his  words. 
Then  Christ  went  out  of  him  and  Judas  himself  also 
abandoned  Jesus,  following  the  Devil. 

How  many  masters  he  has  who  has  run  away  from  the 
One!  But  let  us  not  run  from  Him.  Who  will  run  away 
from  Him  whom  they  follow  bound  in  chains,  but  willing 
chains,  which  loose  and  do  not  bind,  and  those  who  are 
bound  with  these  chains  boast  and  say:  'Paul,  a  prisoner  of 
Christ  Jesus,  and  Timothy.'135  It  is  more  glorious  for  us  to  be 
bound  by  Him  than  to  be  set  free  and  loosed  from  others. 
Who,  then,  will  run  from  peace?  Who  will  run  from  salva- 
tion? Who  will  run  from  mercy?  Who  will  run  from  redemp- 
tion? 

You  see,  my  sons,  the  kind  of  men  who  have  escaped,  who 
followed  after  such  things,  and  how  they  work  although  they 
are  dead?  Let  us  strive  to  reach  the  diligence  of  those 
virtues  whose  glory  we  so  admire,  and  what  we  praise  in 
others  let  us  silently  behold  in  ourselves.  Nothing  tender, 

134  Cf.  John  13.2. 

135  Philem.  1.1. 


358  SAINT  AMBROSE 

nothing  weak  attains  to  praise:  The  kingdom  of  heaven  is 
taken  by  force,  and  the  violent  carry  it  away.'136  The 
patriarchs  ate  the  Iamb  in  haste.  Faith  is  hasty,  devotion  is 
quick,  hope  is  nimble,  it  does  not  love  contradictions  of  the 
soul,  but  the  passage  from  fruitless  leisure  to  fruitful  labor. 
What  are  you  putting  off  until  tomorrow?  You  can  gain  only 
today.  Be  careful  lest  you  have  not  that  and  lose  this.  The  loss 
of  one  hour  is  not  slight  and  one  hour  is  a  portion  of  a  whole 
life. 

There  are  young  men  who  want  to  reach  old  age  quickly 
so  that  they  will  no  longer  be  subject  to  the  will  of  their 
elders.  There  are  old  men  who  would  like,  if  possible,  to 
return  to  their  youth.  I  approve  of  neither  of  these  desires, 
because  youths,  tired  of  the  present,  as  if  ungrateful,  seek  a 
change  of  life,  old  men  its  lengthening;  whereas  youth  can 
grow  old  in  character,  and  old  age  fresh  in  action.  Not  age 
so  much,  but  discipline,  brings  a  betterment  of  habits.  How 
much  more,  then,  should  we  raise  our  hopes  toward  the 
kingdom  of  God  where  there  will  be  newness  of  life,  where 
there  will  be  a  change  of  grace,  not  of  life. 

The  reward  is  not  obtained  by  laziness  or  sleep.  The  sleep- 
er does  no  work,  leisure  has  no  profit,  but  loss  instead.  Esau, 
by  taking  leisure,  lost  the  primacy  of  blessing,137  because  he 
preferred  to  have  food  given  him  rather  than  to  go  in 
search  of  it.  By  his  labor  Jacob  found  favor  with  both  his 
parents. 

Yet,  although  Jacob  surpassed  his  brother  in  virtue  and 
favor,  he  yielded  to  his  wrath  when  he  grieved  over  the 
younger  borther's  being  preferred  to  him.  So  it  is  written: 
'Give  place  to  the  wrath,'138  lest  another's  wrath  draw  you 
into  sin  when  you  wish  to  offer  resistance,  when  you  wish  to 

136  Matt.  11.12. 

137  Cf.  Gen.  27.35. 

138  Rom.  12.19. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  359 

be  avenged.  You  can  take  the  fault  from  him  and  from 
yourself  if  you  decide  to  yield  [to  the  other].  Imitate  the 
patriarch  who  went  far  away  at  his  mother's  advice.  What 
mother's?  Rebecca's;  that  is,  patience's.  Who  but  patience 
could  have  had  this  plan?  The  mother  loved  her  son,  but  she 
preferred  him  to  be  an  exile  from  her  rather  than  from  God. 
And  so,  because  she  was  a  good  mother,  she  gave  to  both, 
but  to  the  younger  son  she  gave  a  blessing  which  he  could 
keep.  She  did  not  prefer  one  son  to  another,  but  the  nimble 
to  the  leisurely,  the  faithful  to  the  faithless.  And  even  to  the 
older  son  she  gave  not  a  little  by  loving  the  younger  son,  lest 
she  make  him  a  murderer. 

Since  he139  was  exiled  from  his  parents  by  reason  of  his 
piety,  not  for  his  wickedness,  he  spoke  with  God,  he  increased 
in  wealth,  in  children,  in  favor.  Nor  was  he  puffed  up  by 
these  things  when  he  met  his  brother,  but  he  humbly  bowed 
down  to  him,  not  considering  him  as  pitiless,  as  wrathful,  as 
base-born,  but  reverencing  Him  whom  he  saw  in  his  brother. 
So  he  bowed  down  seven  times,  which  is  the  number  of 
forgiveness,  because  he  reverenced  not  the  man,  but  Him 
who  he  saw  in  spirit  would  come  in  man's  flesh  to  take  away 
the  sins  of  the  world.140  This  mystery  is  disclosed  to  you  in 
the  response  to  Peter,  when  he  says:  'How  often  shall  my 
brother  sin  against  me,  and  I  forgive  him?  Up  to  seven 
times?'141  You  see  that  the  forgiveness  of  sins  is  a  type  of  that 
great  sabbath,  of  that  everlasting  rest  of  grace,  and  it  is 
granted  by  contemplation. 

But  what  is  meant  by  his  arranging  his  wives  and  child- 
ren and  all  servants  and  ordering  them  to  bow  down  to  the 
earth?142  Surely  it  was  not  to  that  element  which  is  generally 

139  Cf.  Gen.  27.43. 

140  Cf,  John  1.29. 

141  Matt.  18.21. 

142  Cf.  Gen.  33.6. 


360  SAINT  AMBROSE 

filled  with  blood,  on  which  is  the  workshop  of  crime,  or  which 
is  often  rough  with  huge  crags,  or  steep  cliffs  of  barren  dry 
ground,  but  as  to  that  flesh  which  will  be  our  protection. 
Perhaps  that  is  the  mystery  the  Lord  taught  you  when  He 
says:  'Not  only  seven  times,  but  seventy  times  seven.'143 

Therefore,  do  you  forgive  your  injuries  that  you  may  be 
the  children  of  Jacob.144  Do  not  be  angry  like  Esau,  Imitate 
blessed  David  who  like  a  good  master  left  us  what  to  imitate, 
saying:  'In  return  for  their  loving  me,  they  reproached  me, 
but  I  gave  myself  to  prayer,'  and  when  he  was  cursed,  he 
prayed.  Prayer  is  a  good  shield  by  which  insult  is  kept  away; 
cursing  is  repelled  and  is  thrown  frequently  back  upon  those 
who  uttered  the  curse  so  that  they  are  wounded  with  their  own 
weapon:  'Let  them  curse,'  he  says,  'but  mayst  thou  bless.'145 
One  must  solicit  the  curse  of  men,  which  brings  the  blessing 
of  the  Lord. 

And  for  the  rest,  consider,  dearly  beloved,  why  Jesus 
suffered  outside  the  gate,146  and  do  you  leave  this  earthly 
city,  because  your  city  is  Jerusalem  which  is  above.  Live 
there  so  that  you  may  say:  'Our  abode  is  in  heaven.'147 
Therefore,  Jesus  went  forth  from  the  city  so  that  you,  going 
forth  from  the  world,  might  be  above  the  world.  Moses,  the 
only  one  to  see  God,  had  his  tabernacle  outside  the  camp 
when  he  spoke  with  God,148  and  the  blood  of  victims,  which 
were  offered  for  sin,  was  offered  on  altars,149  but  their  bodies 
were  burned  outside  the  camp,  because  no  one  who  is  in  the 
midst  of  the  evils  of  this  world  can  be  rid  of  sin,  nor  is  his 
blood  acceptable  to  God  unless  he  leaves  the  defilement  of 
this  body. 

143  Matt.  18.22. 

144  Cf.  Col.  3.13. 

145  Ps.  108.4,28. 

146  Cf.  Heb.  13.12. 

147  Phil.  3.20. 

148  Cf.  Exod.  33.7-9. 

149  Cf.  Exod.  29.12,13. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  361 

Love  hospitality,  by  which  blessed  Abraham  found  favor, 
and  received  Christ  as  his  guest,  and  Sara  already  worn  with 
age  deserved  to  have  a  son.  Lot  also  escaped  the  destructive 
fire  of  Sodom,150  and  you  can  entertain  angels  if  you  offer 
your  hospitality  to  strangers.  What  shall  I  say  of  Rahob  who 
by  this  means  found  salvation?151 

Show  compassion  for  those  who  are  bound  by  chains,  as  if 
you  yourself  were  bound  with  them.  Console  those  who 
grieve:  elt  is  better  to  go  to  the  house  of  mourning,  than  to 
the  house  of  joy/152  From  one  is  borne  the  merit  of  a  good 
work;  from  the  other,  a  lapse  into  sin.  Lastly,  from  the  one 
you  hope  for  a  reward;  in  the  other  you  receive  it.  Suffer 
with  those  who  are  in  trouble,  as  if  being  in  trouble  with  them. 

Let  a  woman  show  deference,  not  be  a  slave  to  her 
husband;  let  her  show  she  is  ready  to  be  guided,  not  coerced. 
She  is  not  worthy  of  wedlock  who  is  worthy  of  chiding.  Let 
the  husband,  too,  manage  his  wife  like  a  steersman,  pay 
honor  to  her  as  his  life  partner,  share  with  her  as  the  co-heir 
of  grace. 

Mothers,  wean  your  children,  love  them,  but  pray  for 
them  that  they  may  be  long-lived  above  the  earth,  not  on  it, 
but  above  it.  Nothing  is  long-lived  on  this  earth,  and  that 
which  lasts  long  is  brief  and  more  hazardous.  Warn  them 
rather  to  take  up  the  cross  of  the  Lord  than  to  love  this  life. 

Mary  the  Mother  of  the  Lord  stood  at  the  cross  of  her 
Son;  no  one  told  me  this  except  St.  John  the  Evangelist.153 
Others  described  how  the  earth  was  shaken  during  the  Lord's 
passion,  how  the  sky  was  covered  with  darkness,154  that  the 
sun  was  darkened,  that  the  thief  was  received  into  paradise 
after  a  confession  of  faith.155  John  taught  what  the  others  did 

150  Cf.  Gen.  18.1,2;  19.2,3,13-22. 

151  Cf.  Josue  2.1-19. 

152  Eccle.  7.3. 

153  Cf.  John  19.25. 

154  Cf.  Matt.  27.45. 

155  Cf.  Luke  23.43. 


362  SAINT  AMBROSE 

not,  how  when  He  hung  on  the  cross  He  called  his  Mother 
by  name,  thinking  it  of  more  import  that  the  Victor  over 
suffering  showed  His  Mother  the  marks  of  piety  than  that 
He  gz.ve  a  heavenly  gift.  For,  if  it  is  pious  to  give  pardon  to 
a  thief,  it  is  a  sign  of  richer  devotion  for  a  mother  to  be  so 
honored  with  affection  by  her  Son:  'Behold,'  he  says,  'thy 
son.  .  .  .  Behold,  thy  mother.'  Christ  made  His  will  from  the 
cross  and  apportioned  the  duties  of  piety  between  mother  and 
disciple.  The  Lord  made  not  only  a  public,  but  also  a  private 
will,  and  this  will  of  His  John  sealed,  a  worthy  witness  of  so 
great  a  Testator — a  good  testament  not  of  money,  but  of 
life  eternal,  which  was  written  not  with  ink,  but  with  the 
Spirit  of  the  living  God,  who  says:  'My  tongue  is  the  pen  of  a 
ready  scribe.5156 

Nor  was  Mary  less  than  was  befitting  the  Mother  of  Christ. 
When  the  Apostles  fled,  she  stood  before  the  cross  and  with 
reverent  gaze  beheld  her  Son's  wounds,  for  she  awaited  not 
her  Child's  death,  but  the  world's  salvation.  Or  perhaps  that 
'regal  chamber'  knew  that  through  her  Son's  death  would  be 
the  world's  redemption,  and  she  thought  through  her  own 
death  she  would  give  herself  for  the  common  weal.  But  Jesus 
had  no  need  of  a  helper  in  redeeming  all,  for  He  saved  all 
without  a  helper.  Therefore  He  says:  'I  have  become  as  a 
man  without  help,  free  among  the  dead/157  Indeed,  He 
received  the  devotion  of  His  Parent,  but  He  did  not  seek 
another's  aid. 

Imitate  her,  holy  mothers,  who  in  her  dearly  loved  only 
Son  set  forth  such  an  example  of  motherly  virtue;  you  do 
not  have  sweeter  children,  nor  did  the  Virgin  seek  the 
consolation  of  being  able  to  bear  another  son. 

Masters,  command  your  slaves  not  as  if  they  are  beneath 
you  in  rank,  but  remembering  that  they  are  sharers  of  the 


156  Ps.  44.2. 

157  Ps.  87.5,6. 


LETTERS  TO  PRIESTS  363 

same  nature  as  yourselves.158  Slaves,  too,  serve  your  masters 
with  good-will,  for  each  should  patiently  accept  that  to  which 
he  is  born;  obey  not  only  good  but  also  severe  masters.  For, 
what  favor  has  your  service  if  you  zealously  serve  good  mas- 
ters? But,  if  you  render  favors  also  to  harsh,  [you  gain  merit]. 
For,  free  men  have  no  reward  if,  being  guilty,  they  are  pun- 
ished by  judges,  but  this  is  merit  if  they  suffer  not  being  guilty. 
Therefore,  if  you  serve  your  masters  amid  difficulties,  con- 
templating the  Lord  Jesus,  you  will  have  a  reward.  Indeed, 
the  Lord  Himself,  a  just  man,  suffered  from  the  unjust,  and 
nailed  our  sins  to  His  cross  by  His  marvelous  patience,  so 
that  whoever  imitates  Him  may  wipe  away  his  sins  with  His 
Blood. 

In  conclusion,  turn,  all  of  you,  to  the  Lord  Jesus.  Let  the 
joy  of  this  life  be  in  you  in  a  good  conscience,  in  suffering 
death  with  the  hope  of  immortality,  the  assurance  of  the 
resurrection  through  the  grace  of  Christ,  truth  with  simplicity, 
faith  with  confidence,  fasting  with  holiness,  diligence  with 
soberness,  living  with  modesty,  learning  without  vainglory, 
soberness  of  doctrine,  faith  without  the  intoxication  of  heresy. 

The  grace  of  the  Lord  Jesus  Christ  be  with  you  all.  Amen. 

158  Cf.  1  Peter  2.18. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER 


60.  Ambrose,  bishop,  to  Marcellina  his  sister  (Easter,  386) 

|N  MOST  of  your  letters  you  make  anxious  inquiry 
about  the  church.  Hear,  then,  what  is  going  on: 
The  day  after  I  received  your  letter,  in  which  you 
remarked  that  your  dreams  were  troubling  you,  a  great  wave 
of  serious  disturbances  began  overwhelming  us.  This  time  it 
was  not  the  Portian  Basilica,  that  is,  the  one  outside  the  walls,1 
which  was  being  demanded  [by  the  Arians],  but  the  new 
basilica,  that  is,  the  one  inside  the  walls,  the  larger  one. 

First,  the  military  authorities,2  imperial  counts,3  came  with 
their  command  to  me  to  hand  over  the  [new]  basilica4  and 
also  to  see  to  it  that  the  people  caused  no  disturbance,  I 
answered,  as  was  proper,  that  ?i  bishop  could  not  hand  over 
the  temple  of  God. 

On  the  following  day  in  church  this  [statement  of  mine] 

1  The  so-called  Basilica  of  St.  Victor. 

2  principes  virtutum. 

3  comites  ccfnsistoriani. 

4  The  Ambrosian  Basilica. 

365 


366  SAINT  AMBROSE 

was  loudly  approved  by  the  people;  then  the  praetorian 
prefect  arrived  there  and  began  to  urge  us  to  give  up  the 
Portian  Basilica.  The  people  protested  again,  whereupon  he 
left,  saying  that  he  would  make  a  report  of  matters  to  the 
emperor. 

The  following  day,  the  Lord's  day,  after  the  lessons^  and 
sermon,  I  dismissed  the  catechumens  and  then  went  on  giving 
an  exposition  of  the  Creed  to  several  candidates  for  baptism 
in  the  baptistries  of  the  basilica.  There  I  was  informed  that 
some  of  the  people  were  flocking  over  to  the  Portian  Basilica 
since  they  had  learned  that  officers5  had  been  sent  from  the 
palace  and  were  hanging  up  the  imperial  banners.6  Yet  I 
stayed  at  my  duty  and  began  to  celebrate  Mass. 

While  I  was  offering  [Mass]  I  learned  that  a  certain 
Castulus,  whom  the  Arians  declared  to  be  a  priest,  had  been 
seized  by  the  people  as  they  encountered  him  in  the  public 
square.  I  began  to  weep  very  bitterly  and  to  pray  God  pre- 
cisely at  the  Offertory  that  there  would  be  no  blood  shed  in  a 
case  involving  the  Church,  or,  at  least,  that  it  would  be  my 
blood  which  would  be  poured  out,  not  alone  for  the  salvation 
of  my  people  but  also  for  the  unbelievers  themselves.  To  be 
brief,  I  dispatched  priests  and  deacons  and  rescued  the  man 
from  harm. 

Very  severe  penalties7  were  decreed  then  and  there,8  first 
on  the  entire  class  of  merchants.  Consequently,  during  the 
holy  days  of  the  last  week  [of  Lent],  when  the  bonds  of 
debtors  are  customarily  loosed,  chains  rattled  and  were  put 
upon  the  necks  of  innocent  people,  and  they  were  taxed  200 
pounds'  weight  of  gold9  [to  be  paid]  in  three  days'  time. 
People  said  they  would  give  that  much,  or  double,  if  asked, 

5  decani. 

6  vela. 

1  In  the  form  of  taxes  and /or  imprisonment. 

8  These  are  the  events  of  Monday  of  Holy  Week. 

9  This  was  subsequently  returned  to  the  merchants;  cf.  below. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  367 

provided  that  they  might  practice  their  faith.  The  prisons, 
too,  were  packed  with  tradesmen. 

All  the  palace  officials,  the  clerks,  the  agents  of  affairs, 
the  attendants  of  various  counts  were  ordered  to  avoid  going 
out  on  the  pretext  that  they  were  forbidden  to  take  part  in 
the  rebellion.  Men  of  high  rank  were  threatened  with  many 
dire  consequences  unless  they  effected  the  surrender  of  the 
basilica.  The  persecution  spread,  and,  had  they  opened  their 
doors,  the  people  seemed  on  the  verge  of  breaking  forth  into 
every  sort  of  abuse. 

To  effect  a  speedy  surrender  of  the  basilica  I  myself  was 
approached10  by  counts  and  tribunes  who  said  that  the 
emperor11  was  using  his  rights  inasmuch  as  all  property  was 
under  his  jurisdiction.  I  answered  that  if  he  were  asking  for 
what  was  mine — my  estate,  my  money,  or  anything  of  this 
sort — I  would  not  resist,  even  though  all  my  property  belongs 
to  the  poor;  but  sacred  objects  are  not  subject  to  the 
jurisdiction  even  of  the  emperor.  If  he  wants  my  patrimony, 
come  take  it;  my  person,  I  am  here;  do  you  want  to  drag 
me  off  to  prison,  or  to  death?  The  pleasure  is  mine,  I  will 
not  shelter  myself  with  a  throng  of  people,  nor  cling  to  the 
altars,  begging  for  my  life.  Instead,  I  will  more  gladly  be 
sacrificed  before  the  altars. 

Actually,  in  my  heart  I  was  frightened,  since  I  knew  that 
armed  men  had  been  sent  to  seize  the  basilica  of  the  church; 
[I  feared]  that  in  defending  the  basilica  bloodshed  would 
occur  and  turn  to  the  harm  of  the  whole  city.  I  kept  praying 
that  I  would  not  live  to  see  the  ruin  of  this  great  city  or, 
possibly,  of  all  Italy.  I  dreaded  the  ill-will  that  would  arise 
from  the  spilling  of  blood;  I  offered  my  own  throat.  Some 
tribunes  of  the  Goths  were  there;  I  assailed  them,  saying:  'Is 
this  why  the  Roman  state  has  taken  you  in,  to  make  you 

10  These  are  the  events  of  Tuesday. 

11  Valentinian,  under  the  direction  o£  his  mother  Justina,  who  was  an 
Arian. 


368  SAINT  AMBROSE 

agents  of  a  public  riot?  Where  will  you  go  if  these  lands  are 
destroyed?' 

I  was  told  to  quiet  the  people.  I  retorted  that  it  was  in  my 
power  to  arouse  them,  but  to  quell  them  rested  with  God. 
Then  I  said  that  if  I  was  considered  the  trouble-maker  I 
should  be  punished,  or  banished  to  any  lonely  spot  on  earth 
they  wished.  After  these  words,  they  went  off,  and  I  spent 
the  entire  day  in  the  old  basilica.  Then  I  went  home  to  sleep, 
so  that,  if  anyone  wanted  to  arrest  me,  he  might  find  me 
ready. 

Before  dawn/2  when  I  set  foot  out  of  doors,  the  basilica 
had  been  surrounded  and  was  being  occupied  by  soldiers. 
The  soldiers  were  said  to  have  told  the  emperor  that  if  he 
wished  to  leave  he  would  be  given  the  opportunity;  too, 
they  would  escort  him  if  they  saw  him  joining  the  Catholics; 
otherwise,  they  would  join  the  meeting  called  by  Ambrose. 

No  one  of  the  Arians  dared  appear,  for  there  were  none 
among  the  citizens;  they  consisted  of  a  few  who  belonged  to 
the  imperial  household  and  several  Goths.  Just  as  formerly 
they  had  a  wagon  for  a  dwelling,  so  now  the  church  is  their 
wagon.13  Wherever  that  woman14  goes,  she  takes  along  with 
her  all  her  retinue. 

From  the  groaning  populace  I  understood  that  the  basilica 
was  surrounded.  But,  while  the  lessons  were  being  read,  I 
was  informed  that  even  the  new  basilica  was  filled  with  the 
populace;  the  crowd  seemed  to  be  greater  than  when  they 
were  all  free  to  go  there,  and  they  were  clamoring  for  a 
reader.  In  short,  the  soldiers  themselves,  who  appeared  to  be 
besieging  the  basilica,  after  learning  that  I  had  ordered  them 
kept  from  membership  in  our  communion,  began  coming 
over  to  our  meeting.  Some  of  the  women  were  deeply  troubled 

12  On  Wednesday, 

13  A  reference  to  the  Scythian  origin  of  the  Arian  Goths  who  formerly 
lived  and  held  their   religious  meetings  in  wagons  as  they  traveled 
about. 

14  Empress  Justina. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  369 

when  they  saw  them  and  one  rushed  out.  But  the  soldiers 
declared  they  had  come  to  pray,  not  to  fight.  The  people 
broke  into  some  kind  of  shouting.  With  what  restraint,  with 
what  steadfastness,  with  what  reliance  on  God  did  they  keep 
begging  that  we  go  to  that  basilica!  It  was  said  that  in  that 
basilica,  too,  the  people  were  demanding  my  presence. 

Then  I  began*  the  following  discourse:15  Brethren,  you 
have  heard  the  Book  of  Job  being  read  which  we  follow 
during  this  solemn  service  and  season.  Even  the  Devil  knew 
from  experience  that  this  book  would  be  made  known  where 
all  the  power  of  his  temptation  is  revealed  and  set  forth.  On 
that  account  he  hurled  himself  today  with  greater  strength. 
But,  thanks  be  to  our  God  who  so  confirmed  you  in  faith 
and  patience.  I  mounted  the  pulpit  to  praise  one  man,  Job; 
I  have  found  all  of  you  to  be  Jobs  whom  I  admire.  In  each  of 
you  Job  has  lived  again,  in  each  the  patience  and  virtue  of 
that  holy  man  has  shone  again.  For,  what  more  timely  could 
be  said  by  Christian  men  than  what  the  Holy  Spirit  has 
said  in  you  today?  We  beg,  O  Augustus,  we  do  not  battle. 
We  are  not  afraid,  but  we  are  begging.  It  befits  Christians 
to  hope  for  the  tranquility  of  peace  and  not  to  check  the 
steadfastness  of  faith  and  truth  when  faced  with  danger  of 
death.  The  Lord  is  our  Head  who  will  save  those  who  hope 
in  Him.16 

But  let  us  come  to  the  lessons  before  us.  You  see,  permission 
is  granted  to  the  Devil  to  be  a  tempter17  in  order  that  the 
good  may  be  tried.  The  Devil  envies  the  progress  of  the  good; 
he  tempts  them  in  various  ways.  He  tempted  Job  in  his 
possessions;  he  tempted  him  in  his  children;  he  tempted  him 
in  pain  of  body.  The  strong  man  is  tempted  in  his  own  body, 
the  weak  man  in  another's.  And  he  wanted  to  take  from  me 
the  riches  which  I  have  in  you,  and  he  desired  to  scatter  this 

15  The  full  text  of  Ambrose's  sermon  is  here  given  in  the  six  following 
paragraphs. 

16  Cf.  Ps.  16.7. 

17  Cf.  Job  1.12. 


3  70  SAINT  AMBROSE 

inheritance  of  your  tranquility.  He  longed  to  snatch  you 
away,  too,  my  very  good  sons,  for  whom  I  daily  renew  the 
Sacrifice.  He  was  trying  to  drag  you  into  the  ruins  of  public 
disorder.  I  have,  therefore,  experienced  two  kinds  of  tempta- 
tions. And  perhaps  because  the  Lord  God  knows  that  I  am 
weak,  He  still  has  not  given  him  [the  Devil]  power  over  my 
body.  Although  I  make  it  my  will  and  make  the  offering, 
He  judges  me  still  unequal  to  this  struggle,  and  He  tries  me 
with  various  labors.  And  Job  did  not  begin  but  ended  with 
this  struggle. 

Moreover,  Job  was  tried  by  accumulated  tidings  of  evils; 
he  was  even  tried  by  his  wife  who  said :  'Speak  a  word  against 
God,  and  die.'18  You  see  what  great  disturbances  are  suddenly 
at  hand — Goths,  armed  men,  heathens,  fining  of  mer- 
chants, punishment  of  saints.  You  see  what  is  asked  when 
this  command  is  given:  Hand  over  the  basilica — that  is: 
'Speak  a  word  against  God,  and  die,5  do  not  merely  speak  a 
word  opposing  God,  but  make  yourself  an  opponent  of  God. 
The  order  is:  Hand  over  the  altars  of  God. 

We  are  hard-pressed  by  the  royal  edicts,  but  we  are 
strengthened  by  the  words  of  Scripture,  which  answered: 
'You  have  spoken  like  one  of  the  senseless.319  And  that  was 
no  slight  temptation,  because  we  know  that  those  temptations 
are  more  severe  which  are  brought  about  through  women. 
Indeed,  through  Eve  Adam  was  deceived,  and  thus  did  it 
come  about  that  he  departed  from  the  divine  commands. 
When  he  learned  his  mistake  and  was  conscious  of  the  sin 
within  himself,  he  wished  to  hide  but  could  not.  And  so  God 
said  to  him:  'Adam,  where  art  thou?'20  that  is,  what  were 
you  before?  Where  now  have  you  begun  to  stay?  Where  did 
I  put  you?  Whither  have  you  wandered?  You  realize  that  you 
are  naked  because  you  have  lost  the  robes  of  good  faith. 

18  Cf.  Job  2.9;  the  Vulgate  is  'Bless  God,  and  die.' 

19  Job  2.10. 

20  Cf.  Gen.  3.6,9. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  371 

Those  are  leaves  with  which  you  now  seek  to  cover  yourself. 
You  have  repudiated  the  fruit,  wishing  to  hide  under  the 
leaves  of  the  law,  but  you  are  betrayed.  You  desired  to  leave 
the  Lord  your  God  for  one  woman,  and  you  are  fleeing  One 
whom  formerly  you  wished  to  behold.  With  one  woman  you 
have  preferred  to  hide  yourself,  to  abandon  the  Mirror  of  the 
world,  the  abode  of  paradise,  the  grace  of  Christ.' 

Why  should  I  tell  of  how  Jezabel  severely  persecuted 
Elias,21  and  Herodias  caused  John  the  Baptist  to  be  put  to 
death?22  Individual  women  persecuted  individual  men,  but 
in  so  far  as  my  merits  are  far  less,  so  are  these  trials  of  mine 
heavier.  My  strength  is  weaker,  my  danger  greater.  Women's 
fortune  changes,  their  hatreds  are  replaced  by  others,  their 
contrivances  vary,  they  are  following  their  elders  and  making 
a  pretext  [of  protecting]  the  king  from  harm.  What  reason 
is  there  for  such  serious  trials  against  a  mere  worm,  except 
that  they  are  persecuting  not  me  but  the  Church? 

Then  the  command  is  given:  'Hand  over  the  basilica.'  I 
answer:  'It  is  not  lawful  for  me  to  hand  it  over,  nor  is  it 
expedient  for  you,  O  Emperor,  to  receive  it.  If  you  cannot 
rightly  violate  the  house  of  a  private  individual,  do  you  think 
that  the  house  of  God  can  be  appropriated?'  It  is  alleged  that 
all  things  are  permitted  the  emperor,  that  everything  is  his. 
To  this  I  reply:  'Do  not  burden  yourself  with  thinking  that 
you  have  imperial  power  over  things  which  are  divine.  Do 
not  exalt  yourself,  but,  if  you  wish  to  be  emperor  for  a  long 
time,  be  subject  to  God.  Scripture  says:  "What  things  are 
God's  to  God,  what  are  Caesar's  to  Caesar."23  Palaces  belong 
to  the  emperor,  churches  to  the  bishop.  You  have  been  given 
authority  over  public  edifices,  not  over  sacred  ones.'  Again  it 
is  said  the  order  came  from  the  emperor:  %  too,  ought  to 
have  a  basilica.'  I  answered :  elt  is  not  lawful  for  you  to  have 

21  Cf.  3  Kings  19.1,2. 

22  Cf.  Matt.  14.3-12. 

23  Matt.  22.21. 


372  SAINT  AMBROSE 

one.  What  have  you  to  do  with  an  adulteress?  She  is  an 
adulteress  who  is  not  joined  to  Christ  by  lawful  union !' 

While  I  was  treating  of  these  matters,  word  was  brought  to 
me  that  the  royal  hangings  had  been  gathered  up,  the  basilica 
was  filling  with  people,  and  they  were  demanding  my 
presence.  At  once  I  turned  my  discourse  in  that  direction, 
saying:  How  lofty  and  deep  are  the  sayings  of  the  Holy 
Spirit !  As  you  remember,  brethren,  we  responded  with  great 
sorrow  of  soul  to  the  words  read  at  Matins:  'O  God,  the 
heathen  have  invaded  thine  inheritance.324  In  reality,  the 
heathen  have  invaded,  and  even  more  than  the  heathen  have 
invaded.  For  the  Goths  have  invaded,  and  men  of  different 
nations;  they  invaded  with  arms  and  surrounded  and  seized 
the  basilica.  We  lamented  this,  being  ignorant  of  your  great- 
ness, but  our  want  of  wisdom  drew  forth  this  [lament]. 

The  heathen  have  invaded,  and  truly  they  have  invaded 
your  inheritance,  for  those  who  invaded  as  heathen  have 
become  Christians.  Those  who  came  to  invade  the  inheritance 
became  co-heirs  of  God.  I  have  as  defenders  those  whom  I 
thought  to  be  enemies;  I  possess  as  allies  those  whom  I 
thought  to  be  adversaries.  That  is  fulfilled  which  David  the 
Prophet  sang  of  the  Lord  Jesus:  'His  abode  is  in  peace/  and 
'There  he  has  broken  the  sides  of  the  bows,  the  shield,  the 
sword  and  the  war!'25  Whose  task  is  this,  whose  work  but 
Yours,  O  Lord  Jesus?  You  saw  armed  men  coming  to  Your 
temple,  people  groaning  for  this  reason  and  coming  in  crowds 
that  they  might  not  seem  to  be  handing  over  God's  basilica, 
and,  on  the  other  hand,  the  soldiers  were  under  orders  to  do 
violence.  Death  was  before  my  eyes,  but  that  amid  these 
events  madness  should  be  given  no  right  You  put  Yourself 
in  our  midst,  O  Lord,  and  made  both  one.26  You  quieted  the 

24  Ps.  78.1. 

25  Ps.  75.3,4. 

26  Cf.  Eph.  2.14. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  373 

armed  men,  saying,  no  doubt :  'If  you  rush  to  arms,  if  those 
shut  up  in  my  temple  are  disturbed,  "What  profit  will  be 
from  my  blood?"  '  Thanks  be  to  You,  Christ !  Not  a  legate 
or  messenger,  but  'Thou,  O  Lord,  hast  made  safe  thy  people.* 
Thou  hast  tossed  away  my  sackcloth,  and  thou  hast  girt  me 
with  gladness.'27 

These  things  I  said  and  marveled  that  the  feeling  of  the 
emperor  could  have  grown  gentle  through  the  zeal  of  the 
soldiers,  the  entreaty  of  the  counts,  and  the  prayers  of  the 
people.  Meanwhile  the  message  came  to  me  that  an  envoy 
had  been  sent  to  bring  me  a  decree.  I  withdrew  a  little  and 
he  acquainted  me  with  the  decree.  'What,'  he  said,  'is  your 
idea  in  acting  contrary  to  the  emperor's  wish?'  'I  do  not 
know  his  wish,'  I  answered,  'nor  am  I  certain  of  what  I  have 
done  in  disobedience.'  'Why,'  he  asked,  'did  you  assign 
priests28  to  the  basilica?  If  you  are  a  usurper,  I  want  to  know 
how  to  prepare  myself  against  you/  I  replied,  saying  that  I 
had  done  nothing  to  harm  the  church,  that  when  I  had 
heard  that  the  basilica  was  besieged  by  soldiers,  I  only  gave 
free  vent  to  my  lament,  and  when  many  urged  me  to  go 
there  I  stated :  CI  cannot  hand  over  the  basilica,  yet  I  cannot 
wage  a  fight.'  And  after  I  learned  that  the  royal  hangings 
had  been  taken  away29  when  the  people  demanded  that  I 
go  there,  I  sent  some  priests.  I  was  unwilling  to  go  myself, 
but  I  told  them :  In  Christ  I  believe  that  the  emperor  himself 
will  join  us. 

If  these  seem  to  be  the  acts  of  a  usurper,  I  have  weapons, 
but  only  in  the  name  of  Christ.  I  can  offer  my  life.  Why 
does  he  delay  striking  if  he  thinks  I  am  a  usurper.  Under 
the  Old  Testament  imperial  power  was  bestowed  by  priests, 
not  despotically  claimed,  and  it  is  commonly  said  that 
emperors  aspired  to  the  priesthood  rather  than  priests  to  the 


27  Ps.  29.10;  27.9;  29.12. 

28  presbyteri. 

29  By  the  emperor's  soldiers. 


374  SAINT  AMBROSE 

imperial  power.  Christ  fled  lest  He  be  made  a  king.30  We 
have  a  power  of  our  own.  The  power  of  the  priest  is  weakness. 
He  [St.  Paul]  said:  'When  I  am  weak,  then  I  am  strong.'31 
He  should  take  care  not  to  make  himself  a  usurper,  he  against 
whom  God  has  not  raised  up  an  adversary.  Maximus  does 
not  say  that  I  am  a  usurper  of  Valentinian,  though  he 
complained  that  through  the  intervention  of  my  delegation  he 
was  unable  to  come  to  Italy.  I  said,  too,  that  bishops  were 
never  usurpers  but  often  had  suffered  from  usurpers. 

That  whole  day  was  spent  in  sorrow  on  our  part.  The 
royal  hangings  were  torn  by  children  in  their  play.  I  could 
not  return  home  because  soldiers  were  stationed  around  the 
basilica,  keeping  it  under  guard.  We  recited  the  Psalms  with 
the  brethren  in  the  smaller  chapel  of  the  church.32 

The  next  day33  the  Book  of  Jonas  was  read  according  to 
custom,  and  when  it  was  finished  I  began  this  sermon:34 
Brethren,  a  book  has  been  read  in  which  it  is  prophesied 
that  sinners  shall  return  to  penance.  It  is  understood  to  mean 
that  they  may  hope  for  the  future  in  the  present.  I  added 
that  the  just  man  had  been  willing  to  receive  even  blame,  so 
as  not  to  see  or  prophesy  destruction  for  the  city.  And  because 
that  sentence  was  mournful,  he  grew  sad  when  the  gourd 
withered.  God  said  to  the  Prophet:  'Are  you  sad  over  the 
gourd?'  Jonas  answered:  'I  am  sad.'35  The  Lord  said  that 
if  he  was  grieving  because  the  gourd  had  withered,  how 
much  greater  should  his  care  be  for  the  salvation  of  so  many 
people !  And,  in  fact,  he  did  away  with  the  destruction  which 
had  been  prepared  for  all  the  city. 

Word  came  promptly  that  the  emperor  had  ordered  the 
soldiers  to  withdraw  from  the  basilica,  and  fines  which  had 
been  levied  on  the  merchants  were  being  returned  to  them. 

30  Cf.  John  6.15. 

31  2  Cor.  12.10. 

32  This  event  is  also  described  by  St.  Augustine    (Con/.  9.7) . 

33  Thursday  o£  Holy  Week. 

34  Another  sermon  is  summarized  here. 

35  Cf.  Jonas  4.7,10. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  *  375 

What,  then,  was  the  joy  of  all  the  people!  What  cheering 
from  the  whole  crowd!  What  thanksgiving!  It  was  the  day 
on  which  the  Lord  had  delivered  Himself  for  us,  the  day  when 
penance  in  the  Church  is  ended.  Soldiers  vied  with  one 
another  in  spreading  the  good  news ;  rushing  to  the  altars,  and 
kissing  them,  they  gave  token  of  peace.  Then  I  knew  that 
God  had  smitten  the  early  worm  so  that  the  whole  city 
might  be  saved. 

These  events  took  place,  and  would  that  they  were  now  at 
an  end!  But  the  words  of  the  emperor,  full  of  turmoil,  point 
to  greater  disturbances.  I  am  called  a  usurper;  even  worse 
than  a  usurper.  For  when  the  counts  begged  the  emperor  to 
give  in  to  the  Church,  and  said  that  they  did  this  at  the  request 
of  the  soldiers,  he  answered:  clf  Ambrose  ordered  you,  you 
will  give  me  to  him  in  chains.3  After  such  a  speech,  just 
think  what  is  coming!  All  were  horrified  at  this  statement, 
but  some  of  his  men  are  urging  him  on. 

Finally,  too,  Calligonus,  the  grand  chamberlain,  dared  to 
address  me  in  this  fashion:  € While  I  live,  do  you  treat 
Valentinian  with  contempt?  I  will  take  your  life !'  I  answered: 
£May  God  grant  you  to  fulfill  what  you  threaten,  for  I  shall 
suffer  what  bishops  suffer,  and  you  will  act  as  eunuchs  act.336 
May  God  turn  them  from  the  Church  and  direct  their 
weapons  all  on  me,  and  slake  their  thirst  with  my  blood. 

36  The,  entire  description  of  Ambrose's  encounter  with  Valentinian  is 
comparable  to  his  later  conduct  before  the  tyrant  Maximus  at  Trier. 
See  Letter  10. 


376  SAINT  AMBROSE 

61.  To  the  lady  his  sister,  dearer  than  life  and  eyes,  a  brother 
(June  20,  386) 

Ordinarily,  I  do  not  leave  your  Holiness  unacquainted 
with  the  events  taking  place  here  in  your  absence.  You  should 
know,  then,  that  we  have  found  some  holy  martyrs.  When  I 
had  consecrated  the  basilica,  many  persons  with  one  accord 
began  appealing  to  me,  saying:  'Consecrate  this  as  you  did 
the  Roman  basilica.'  {I  will,'  I  said,  'if  I  find  relics  of  martyrs.' 
And  at  once  I  was  seized,  as  it  were,  with  a  great  presentiment 
of  some  sort  of  divine  sign.1 

In  short,  the  Lord  bestowed  His  favor.  Even  the  clergy 
were  afraid  when  I  bade  them  clear  away  the  ground  in  the 
spot  before  the  grating  of  Sts.  Felix  and  Nabor.  I  found 
encouraging  signs.  And  when  certain  persons  were  brought 
forward  to  have  my  hands  laid  on  them  [in  blessing],  the 
holy  martyrs  began  driving  away  [the  evil  spirit],  so  that 
before  I  had  said  anything  one  woman2  was  seized  and 
thrown  forward  at  the  holy  burial  place.  We  found  two  men 
of  wondrous  stature,  such  as  ancient  ages  bore.  The  bones 
were  all  intact  and  there  was  much  blood.3  A  great  throng 
of  people  was  there  during  these  two  days.  In  short,  we 
arranged  everything  in  orderly  fashion.  As  it  was  close  to 
evening,  we  transferred  them  to  the  basilica  of  Fausta.  All 
that  night  watch  was  kept  and  blessings  were  given.  The 
next  day  we  transferred  them  to  that  which  is  called  the 
Ambrosian  Basilica.  While  they  were  being  transferred  a 
blind  man  was  cured.  My  sermon  to  the  people  was  as 
follows : 

When  I  consider  the  overflowing  and  unprecedented  num- 
ber in  this  gathering  of  yours,  and  the  gift  of  divine  grace 

1  Augustine  also  describes  this  event    (Con/.  9.7;  De  civ.  Dei  22.8)  ;  cf. 
also  his  C.  Don.  Epist.  19. 

2  The  editors  read  unaf  not  urna  as  in  the  mss. 

3  Some  rationalists  maintain  that  Ambrose  found  prehistoric  burials  in 
which  bones  were  often  covered  with  red  ochre.  Cf.  Dudden,  pp.  306- 
307.  ™ 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  377 

which  has  shone  forth  in  the  holy  martyrs,  I  confess  I  feel 
unequal  to  this  task,  nor  can  we  express  with  words  what  we 
can  scarcely  understand  with  the  mind  or  grasp  with  the  eye. 
But  when  the  regular  reading  of  the  holy  Scriptures  began, 
the  Holy  Spirit  who  spoke  by  the  Prophets  bestowed  His 
gift  so  that  we  might  utter  something  worthy  of  so  great  a 
throng  and  your  hopes  and  the  merits  of  the  holy  martyrs. 

'The  heavens  declare  the  glory  of  God.'4  When  this  psalm 
is  read,  the  thought  occurs  that  it  is  not  the  material  elements 
but  heavenly  graces  which  seem  to  offer  worthy  praise 
to  God.  Yet,  today,  it  is  evident  from  the  chance  reading  of 
the  lesson  what  heavens  declare  the  glory  of  God.  See  on  my 
right  hand,  see  on  my  left,  these  most  sacred  relics !  See  these 
men  of  heavenly  manner  of  life!  Look  at  the  rewards  of  a 
great  soul!  These  are  the  heavens  which  declare  the  glory  of 
God;  these  are  the  works  of  His  hands  which  the  firmament 
proclaims.  It  was  not  the  charm  of  the  world  but  the  grace 
of  God  at  work  which  brought  them  to  the  firmament  of  the 
most  holy  passion.  In  fact,  long  ago,  their  characters  and 
virtues  were  tested  and  bore  witness  of  them  because  they 
remained  firm  against  the  hazards  of  this  world. 

Paul  was  a  heaven  when  he  said:  £Our  citizenship  is  in 
heaven.'  James  and  John  were  heavens,  and  for  this  reason 
they  are  called  'Sons  of  Thunder.36  In  fact,  John,  like  heaven, 
saw  the  Word  with  God.7  The  Lord  Jesus  Himself  was  ^t 
heaven  of  everlasting  light  when  He  revealed  the  glory  of 
God,  but  a  glory  which  no  one  had  beheld  before.  And  so  He 
said:  'No  one  has  at  any  time  seen  God.  The  only-begotten 
Son,  who  is  in  the  bosom  of  the  Father,  he  has  revealed  him.'8 
If  you  also  are  seeking  for  the  works  of  God's  hands,  hear 
Job  when  he  says:  'The  spirit  of  God  who  made  me.'9  Thus 

4  PS.  18.2. 

5  Phil.  3.20. 

6  Mark  3.17. 

7  Cf.  John  1.1. 

8  John  1.18. 

9  Job  33.4. 


378  SAINT  AMBROSE 

strengthened  against  the  temptations  of  the  Devil,  he  held 
the  path  of  constancy  without  stumbling.  But  let  us  proceed 
to  the  remaining  verses. 

'Day,'  it  is  said,  cunto  day  heralds  the  message.'10  See 
the  true  days  which  no  mist  of  night  makes  false.  See  the 
true  days  of  full  light  and  brilliance  everlasting  which  herald 
the  work  of  God,  not  with  foolish  talk,  but  firm  in  the 
confession  of  Him  from  the  innermost  heart,  persevering  in 
martyrdom. 

Another  psalm  which  was  read  says:11  'Who  is  as  the  Lord 
our  God  who  dwelleth  on  high,  and  looketh  down  on  the 
low  things  in  heaven  and  in  earth?3  God,  no  doubt,  casts 
His  eyes  on  the  lowly,  He  who  laid  bare  the  relics  of  the 
holy  martyrs  of  His  Church,  lying  hid  under  the  lowly  turf, 
their  souls  in  heaven,  their  bodies  in  the  earth:  'Raising  up 
the  needy  man  out  of  the  dust,  lifting  up  the  poor  man  out 
of  the  dunghill,'  placing  him,  as  you  see,  with  the  princes  of 
his  people.  Whom  are  we  to  think  of  as  the  princes  of  his 
people  if  not  the  holy  martyrs  in  whose  number  long  ago 
the  unknown  Protase  and  Gervase  were  given  place?  They 
now  cause  the  Church  at  Milan,  barren  of  martyrs,  now  the 
mother  of  many  children,  to  rejoice  in  the  glory  and  examples 
of  their  suffering. 

This  should  not  be  unlike  the  true  faith:  'Day  unto  day 
heralds  the  message,'12  soul  unto  soul,  life  unto  life,  resurrec- 
tion unto  resurrection.  'And  night  unto  night  makes  it 
known,' — that  is,  flesh  unto  flesh  whose  suffering  reveals  to 
all  its  true  knowledge  of  faith.  Those  nights  are  good,  those 
nights  are  clear  in  which  there  are  stars,  Tor  as  star  differs 
from  star  in  glory,  so  also  with  the  resurrection  of  the  dead.'13 

With  good  reason  do  people  call  this  the  resurrection  of 
the  martyrs.  But  I  will  see  whether  the  martyrs  arose  for 

10  Ps.  18.3. 

11  Ps.  112.5-8. 

12  Ps.  18.2. 

13  1  Cor.  15.41,42. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER 


379 


their  advantage  or  for  ours.  You  know,  and,  in  fact,  have 
seen  many  persons  cleansed  of  the  evil  spirits.  And  many 
who  touched  the  clothing  of  the  saints  with  their  hands  were 
rid  of  sicknesses  which  troubled  them.  Miracles  from  times 
past  are  beginning  anew  as  when  at  the  coming  of  the  Lord 
Jesus  great  grace  poured  itself  upon  the  earth.  You  have  seen 
how  many  have  been  healed  by  the  mere  shadow  of  the 
bodies  of  the  saints.  How  many  handkerchiefs  have  been 
passed  about!  How  many  garments  which  were  laid  upon 
the  sacred  relics  are  now  said  to  possess  healing  power  in 
their  very  touch!  Everyone  is  glad  to  touch  the  outer  cloth 
and  touching  it  he  will  be  cured. 

Thanks  be  to  you,  O  Lord  Jesus,  for  having  aroused  the 
spirit  of  the  martyrs  at  this  time  when  Your  Church  needs 
greater  protection.  Let  everyone  know  the  kind  of  defenders 
I  need,  those  who  can  fight  back  but  are  not  wont  to  attack. 
These  I  have  secured  for  you,  O  holy  people,  so  that  they 
will  bring  help  to  all  and  harm  to  none.  I  am  soliciting 
defenders  like  these,  I  do  not  have  soldiers  like  these — soldiers, 
that  is,  who  are  not  of  the  world,  but  soldiers  of  Christ.14 
With  such  as  these,  I  fear  no  ill-will;  the  greater  the  number 
of  them,  the  safer  are  my  defenses.  And  I  hope  for  the 
protection  from  them  for  the  very  ones  who  grudge  them  to 
me.  Let  them  come  and  see  my  bodyguards.  I  do  not  deny 
that  I  am  surrounded  with  such  arms:  'Those  are  strong  in 
chariots,  these  in  horses,  but  we  will  be  great  in  the  name  of 
the  Lord  our  God.315 

The  text  of  holy  Scripture  tells  how  Eliseus  spoke  to  his 
servant  who  was  afraid  when  he  was  surrounded  by  the 
army  of  the  Syrians  and  bade  him  not  to  fear:  'Because,'  he 

14  St.  Charles  Borromeo  inscribed  Ambrose's  words,  'Tales  ego   ambio 
defensoresf  on  a  banner  of  Sts.  Gervase  and  Protase,  which  was  carried 
through  the  streets  of  Milan  during  the  great  plague  of  1576-1577. 
This  is  but  one  instance  of  many,  illustrating  Charles'  devotion  to  his 
saintly  predecessor  in  the  see  of  Milan. 

15  Ps.  19.8. 


380  SAINT  AMBROSE 

said,  'there  are  more  with  us  than  against  us.'16  To  prove  this 
he  prayed  that  the  eyes  of  Giezi  be  opened,  and,  when  they 
were  opened,  he  [Giezi]  saw  countless  hosts  of  angels. 
Although  we  cannot  see  them,  we  feel  that  they  are  present. 
Our  eyes  were  closed  as  long  as  the  bodies  of  the  saints  lay 
hidden  under  cover.  The  Lord  has  opened  our  eyes;  we  have 
seen  His  troops  which  have  so  often  protected  us.  Formerly, 
we  did  not  see  them,  although  we  had  them.  Then,  because 
we  were  afraid,  the  Lord  said,  as  it  were:  'Behold  the  great 
martyrs  whom  I  have  given  you.'  So  with  our  eyes  unsealed 
we  look  upon  the  glory  of  the  Lord  which  took  place  in  the 
past  in  the  sufferings  of  the  martyrs  and  is  present  in  their 
works.  Brethren,  we  have  escaped  no  slight  load  of  shame, 
for  we  had  patrons  and  did  not  know  it.  We  have  found  this 
one  thing  in  which  we  appear  to  surpass  our  elders — we 
have  regained  the  knowledge  of  the  saintly  martyrs  which 
they  had  lost. 

The  glorious  relics  are  rescued  from  an  inglorious  tomb; 
the  trophies  are  exhibited  to  heaven;  the  tomb  drips  with 
blood;  the  marks  of  the.  bleeding  triumph  appear;  the 
undisturbed  relics  are  found  on  the  spot  in  perfect  order, 
with  the  head  torn  from  the  shoulders.  Old  men  say  now  that 
they  used  to  hear  other  names  given  to  these  martyrs  and 
that  they  have  read  their  inscription.  The  city  which  had 
carried  off  the  martyrs  of  others  had  lost  her  own.  Although 
this  is  the  gift  of  God,  I  cannot  deny  the  grace  which  the 
Lord  Jesus  has  granted  in  the  time  of  my  bishopric.  And 
because  I  myself  am  not  worthy  to  be  a  martyr,  I  have 
secured  these  martyrs  for  you. 

Let  the  triumphant  victims  take  their  place  where  Christ  is 
the  victim.  Let  Him  be  above  the  altar  who  suffered  for  all; 
let  them  be  beneath  the  altar  who  were  redeemed  by  His 
suffering.  This  is  the  spot  that  I  had  destined  for  myself, 
because  it  is  fitting  that  a  bishop  rest  where  he  was  wont  to 

16  4  Kings  6.16. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  381 

offer  the  Holy  Sacrifice.  But  I  yield  the  right-hand  portion 
to  the  sacred  victims,  that  place  is  owed  the  martyrs.  Let  us 
therefore  bury  the  sacred  relics,  carrying  them  to  worthy 
resting  places,  and  let  us  celebrate  the  entire  day  with  the 
worship  of  faith. 

The  people  shouted  that  the  burial  of  the  martyrs  should 
be  postponed  to  the  Lord's  day.  Finally,  however,  it  was 
agreed  to  have  it  take  place  the  following  day.  On  that  day 
the  sermon  which  I  gave  to  the  people  was  like  this: 

Yesterday  I  explained  the  verse:  'Day  unto  day  heralds 
the  message,'  in  so  far  as  the  range  of  my  ability  carried  me. 
Today,  holy  Scripture  seems  not  only  to  have  prophesied  in 
the  past  but  also  to  be  doing  so  in  the  present.  For,  when  I 
see  the  throngs  of  your  Holiness  continuing  day  and  night, 
the  words  of  the  Prophet's  song  declare  that  these  days, 
yesterday  and  today,  are  those  of  which  it  is  most  fittingly 
said:  'Day  unto  day  heralds  the  message,'  and  those  nights 
of  which  it  is  very  suitably  calculated  that  'night  unto  night 
makes  it  known.'  For  what  except  the  Word  of  God  have  you 
heralded  for  two  days  from  the  bottom  of  your  hearts  and 
given  proof  that  you  have  a  knowledge  of  the  faith? 

Yet,  the  usual  ones  grudge  you  this  celebration.  And 
because  they  cannot  understand  your  celebration  with  their 
envious  minds  they  hate  the  reason  for  it.  They  reach  such 
folly  as  to  say  that  there  are  no  merits  in  the  martyrs,  although 
even  the  evil  spirits  admit  them.  But  this  is  not  strange. 
Indeed,  so  great  is  the  lack  of  faith  of  the  unbelieving  that 
the  confession  of  the  Devil  is  more  tolerable.  For  the  Devil 
said:  'Jesus,  Son  of  the  living  God,  why  have  you  come  to 
torment  us  before  the  time?'17  And  when  the  Jews  heard 
this  they  still  denied  that  He  was  the  Son  of  God.  Now,  you 
have  also  heard  the  demons  crying  out  and  admitting  to  the 
martyrs  that  they  cannot  bear  their  punishment,  saying: 
'Why  have  you  come  to  torment  us  so  severely?'  And  the 

17  Matt.  8.29. 


382  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Arians  say :  These  are  not  martyrs,  nor  can  they  torment  the 
Devil,  nor  free  anyone,'  although  the  torments  are  attested  by 
the  words  of  the  demons  themselves,  and  the  benefits  of  the 
martyrs  are  disclosed  by  the  cures  of  those  who  were  healed 
and  the  testimony  of  those  who  were  set  free. 

They  say  that  the  blind  man  has  not  been  given  his  sight, 
but  he  does  not  say  he  was  not  healed.  He  says:  £I  see,  I  who 
did  not  see.3  He  says:  CI  have  ceased  to  be  blind,5  and  he 
proves  it  by  the  fact.  They  deny  the  benefit  who  cannot  deny 
the  fact.  This  man  is  well  known,18  for  he  was  an  employee 
of  the  state  when  he  was  well,  a  man  named  Severus,  a 
butcher  by  trade.  He  gave  up  his  employment  when  his 
affliction  befell  him.  He  calls  to  witness  the  men  whose  kind- 
ness formerly  supported  him;  he  summons  those  as  witnesses 
of  his  healing  whom  he  used  to  have  as  witnesses  and  judges 
of  his  blindness.  He  cries  out,  saying  that  when  he  touched 
the  hem  of  the  martyrs3  garment  in  which  the  sacred  relics 
were  covered  light  was  restored  to  him. 

Does  this  not  resemble  the  account  we  read  in  the  Gospel? 
We  praise  the  power  of  the  one  Author;  it  makes  no  difference 
whether  it  is  a  work  or  a  gift,  since  He  gives  a  gift  in  His 
work  and  He  works  in  His  gift.  What  He  enjoins  others  to  do, 
this  His  name  works  in  the  works  of  others.  We  read,  there- 
fore, in  the  Gospel  that  the  Jews,  when  they  saw  the 
restoration  of  health  in  the  blind  man,  asked  proof  from  his 
parents.  They  asked  them:  cHow  is  it  your  son  sees?3  when 
he  said:  'Whereas  I  was  blind,  now  I  see.'19  In  this  case,  too, 
the  man  says:  £I  was  blind  and  now  I  see.  Ask  others  if  you 
do  not  believe  me.  Ask  strangers  so  that  you  will  not  think 
that  my  parents  are  under  agreement  to  me.'  Their  obstinacy 
is  more  hateful  than  that  of  the  Jews.  When  they  were  in 

18  See  Augustine,  De  civ.  Dei  22.8;  Serm.  381.1;  Retr.  13.7. 

19  John  9.25. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  383 

doubt,  they  asked  the  parents.  These  ask  in  secret  and  openly 
deny.  No  longer  do  they  disbelieve  the  work,  but  the  Author. 

But  what  is  it,  I  ask,  which  they  do  not  believe?  Is  it 
whether  persons  can  be  healed  by  martyrs?  This  is  to  fail  to 
believe  in  Christ,  for  He  Himself  said:  'And  greater  than 
these  you  will  do.320  Or  [do  they  ask  whether  persons  can  be 
healed]  by  those  martyrs  whose  merits  for  a  long  time  were 
vigorous,  whose  bodies  were  found  long  ago?  Here  now  I 
ask:  Do  they  grudge  me  or  the  holy  martyrs?  Can  I  perform 
any  miracles?  Can  anything  be  done  by  my  work,  in  my 
name?  Why,  then,  do  they  grudge  me  what  is  not  mine?  If 
they  grudge  the  martyrs  (for  it  still  remains  that,  if  they  do 
not  grudge  me,  they  seem  to  grudge  the  martyrs),  they  show 
that  the  martyrs  were  of  another  faith  than  what  they  believe. 
For  no  other  reason  would  they  envy  their  works  unless  they 
realized  that  the  faith  in  them  was  other  than  their  own,  that 
faith  which  was  established  by  the  tradition  of  the  fathers, 
which  the  devils  themselves  cannot  deny,  although  the  Arians 
do  so. 

We  have  heard  those  who  had  hands  laid  on  them  say 
today  that  no  one  can  be  saved  unless  he  believes  in  the 
Father,  the  Son,  and  the  Holy  Spirit,  that  he  is  dead  and 
buried  who  denies  the  Holy  Spirit  and  does  not  believe  in 
the  omnipotence  of  the  Trinity.  The  Devil  admits  this,  but 
the  Arians  do  not  wish  to  profess  it.  The  Devil  says :  'Let  him 
who  denies  the  Godhead  of  the  Holy  Spirit  be  tormented  as 
he  was  by  the  martyrs.' 

I  do  not  accept  the  Devil's  testimony,  but  I  do  accept  his 
confession.  The  Devil  spoke  unwillingly  under  duress  and 
torment.  Torture  exacts  that  which  wickedness  suppresses. 
Although  the  Devil  yielded  to  blows,  the  Arians  do  not  know 
how  to  yield.  How  like  Pharao  have  they  suffered  many 

20  John  14.12. 


384  SAINT  AMBROSE 

misfortunes  and  are  hardened  by  their  misfortunes!  The 
Devil  said  those  words  which  we  read:  'I  know  who  thou  art, 
thou  art  the  Son  of  the  living  God.'21  The  Jews  said:  'We 
do  not  know  who  he  is.'22  The  devils  said  today  and  yesterday 
and  last  night:  'We  know  that  you  are  martyrs/  And  the 
Arians  say:  'We  do  not  know,  we  do  not  want  to  know,  we 
do  not  want  to  believe.5  The  devils  say  to  the  martyrs:  'You 
have  come  to  destroy  us.3  The  Arians  say:  'The  torments  of 
the  devils  are  not  real;  they  are  feigned  and  empty  mockery.' 
I  have  heard  of  many  things  being  imagined,  but  no  one 
could  ever  feign  this  and  pretend  that  he  was  a  devil.  What 
is  it  which  we  see  so  disturbs  them  on  whom  a  hand  is  laid? 
Where  is  there  room  for  deceit?  Where  is  there  a  trace  of 
pretense? 

Yet  I  do  not  make  use  of  the  statement  of  the  demons  as  a 
support  for  the  martyrs.  Their  holy  suffering  is  proved  by  its 
benefits.  It  has  judges,  but  they  are  those  who  have  been 
cleansed;  it  has  witnesses,  but  they  are  those  who  were  set 
free.  The  proof  of  those  who  came  here  ill  is  worth  more, 
for  their  healing  attests  it.  The  proof  which  blood  sends  forth 
is  stronger,  for  blood  has  a  piercing  voice  which  reaches  from 
earth  to  heaven,  as  you  read  that  God  said:  'The  blood  of 
your  brother  cries  out  to  me.'23  Here  blood  cries  out  by 
disclosing  its  color;  blood  cries  out  by  publishing  its  work; 
blood  cries  out  by  the  triumph  of  its  suffering.  Your  petition 
has  been  granted  to  postpone  until  today  yesterday's  burial  of 
relics. 

21  Mark  1.24. 

22  John  9.29. 

23  Gen.  4.10. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  385 

62.  A  brother  to  his  sister   (December,  388) 

You  condescended  to  write  me  saying  that  your  Holiness 
was  still  anxious  because  I  had  written  that  I  was  anxious.  I 
am  surprised  that  you  did  not  receive  my  letter  in  which  I 
wrote  that  peace  had  flowed  back  upon  me.  For,  when  the 
report  came  that  the  synagogue  of  the  Jews  and  an  assembly 
place  of  the  Valentinians  had  been  burned1  at  the  instigation 
of  a  bishop,  the  order  was  made,  while  I  was  at  Aquileia,  for 
the  bishop  to  rebuild  the  synagogue,  and  the  monks  who  had 
burned  the  Valentinians'  building  to  be  punished.  Thus,  when 
I  accomplished  nothing  by  frequent  attempts,  I  wrote  and 
sent  a  letter  to  the  emperor,  and  when  he  came  to  church2  I 
delivered  this  sermon: 

It  is  written  in  the  book  of  the  Prophet:  'Take  to  thyself 
a  rod  of  a  nut  tree/3  so  we  must  consider  why  the  Lord  said 
this  to  the  Prophet,  for  it  is  not  written  without  a  purpose, 
since  we  also  read  in  the  Pentateuch  that  the  nut  tree  of 
Aaron,  the  priest,  blossomed  after  it  had  been  laid  away  for 
a  long  while.  By  the  rod  he  appears  to  point  out  that  the 
prophetic  or  priestly  power  should  be  straightforward,  so  that 
it  may  counsel  not  what  is  pleasant  but  what  is  expedient. 

Indeed,  the  Prophet  is  bidden  to  take  a  nut  tree  branch 
because  the  fruit  of  that  aforesaid  tree  has  a  bitter  rind  and 
a  hard  shell,  but  a  good  fruit  within;  thus,  in  imitation  of  it, 
the  Prophet  also  may  utter  bitter  and  hard  sayings,  and  be 
unafraid  to  give  voice  to  harsh  teaching.  The  priest,  too, 
may  do  the  same,  because  his  teaching,  bitter  though  it  may 
seem  to  some  persons  for  a  while  and  long  laid  away  in  the 
ears  of  hypocrites,  yet,  after  a  time,  when  it  seems  to  have 
dried  up,  it  blossoms  forth  like  Aaron's  rod. 

1  At  Callinicum,  modern  Ar-Rakka,  on  the  Euphrates.  Cf.  above,  Letter 
2,  to  Theodosius. 

2  Paulinus     (Vit.   22-23)     says    that    Ambrose   wrote    from    Aquileia    to 
Theodosius,  who  was  at  Milan,  and  then  later  preached  the  sermon  in 
his  own  Cathedral  at  Milan. 

3  Jer.  1.11. 


386  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Therefore  the  Apostle  says:  'What  is  your  wish?  Shall  I 
come  to  you  with  a  rod,  or  in  love,  and  in  the  spirit  of 
meekness?'4  He  first  mentioned  the  rod  and,  as  it  were,  struck 
with  the  nut-tree  rod  those  going  astray,  so  that  he  might 
comfort  them  later  in  the  spirit  of  meekness.  Thus  did 
meekness  restore  one  whom  the  rod  had  deprived  of  the 
heavenly  sacraments.  He  also  gave  similar  commands  to  his 
disciple,  saying:  'Reprove,  entreat,  rebuke.'5  Two  of  these  are 
harsh,  one  is  mild;  but  they  are  harsh  only  that  they  may 
soften,  as  persons,  suffering  from  an  excess  of  gall,  find  the 
bitterness  of  food  or  drink  sweet,  and,  on  the  other  hand, 
sweet  foods  bitter;  thus,  when  the  soul  is  wounded,  it  grows 
worse  under  the  warmth  of  pleasurable  flattery,  and  is  again 
put  in  order  by  the  bitterness  of  correction. 

These  thoughts  may  be  gathered  from  the  reading  of  the 
Prophet.  Let  us  also  consider  what  is  contained  in  the  reading 
of  the  Gospel:  'One  of  the  Pharisees  asked  the  Lord  Jesus  to 
dine  with  him;  so  he  went  into  the  house  of  the  Pharisee, 
and  reclined  at  table.  And  behold,  a  woman  in  the  town, 
who  was  a  sinner,  upon  learning  that  Jesus  was  at  table  in 
the  Pharisee's  house,  brought  an  alabaster  jar  of  ointment; 
and  standing  behind  him  at  his  feet,  she  began  to  bathe  his 
feet  with  her  tears.'  And  then  I  read  on  to  the  words :  'Thy 
faith  has  saved  thee;  go  in  peace.'6  How  simple,  I  went  on  to 
say,  in  words,  how  deep  in  meaning  is  the  reading  of  the 
Gospel!  Therefore,  since  they  are  the  words  of  the  great 
Counselor,7  let  us  consider  their  depth. 

Our  Lord  Jesus  Christ  decided  that  men  could  be  bound 
and  won  over  to  what  is  right  more  readily  by  love  than  by 
fear,  and  that  love  does  more  for  correction  than  does  fear. 
And  so  when  He  came,  born  of  a  virgin,  He  sent  ahead  His 

4  I  Cor.  4.21. 

5  2  Tim.  4.2. 

6  Luke  7.36-38,50. 

7  Isa.  9.6. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  387 

grace  to  forgive  sin  in  baptism  in  order  to  make  us  more 
pleasing  to  Himself.  Then,  if  we  repay  Him  by  services 
befitting  grateful  men,  He  declared  in  this  woman  that  there 
shall  be  to  all  men  the  reward  of  grace  itself.  If  He  had 
forgiven  only  our  first  debts,  He  would  have  seemed  more 
cautious  than  generous,  more  intent  on  our  correction  than 
magnanimous  in  His  reward.  It  is  only  the  cunning  of  a 
narrow  mind  which  tries  to  entice,  but  it  is  fitting  that  God 
lead  on  with  an  increase  of  His  grace  those  whom  He  has 
invited  by  grace.  So  He  first  bestows  on  us  a  gift  in  baptism, 
and  later  He  is  most  generous  with  His  gifts  to  those  who 
serve  Him  well.  These  benefits  of  Christ,  therefore,  are  both 
incentives  and  rewards  of  virtue. 

Let  no  one  be  surprised  if  we  use  the  word  'creditor.'8 
We  were  formerly  under  a  harsh  creditor  who  could  not  be 
satisfied  or  fully  paid  except  by  the  death  of  the  debtor. 
The  Lord  Jesus  came;  He  saw  us  bound  by  a  heavy  debt. 
No  one  could  pay  his  debt  with  his  inheritance  of  innocence ; 
I  was  able  to  take  nothing  of  mine  with  which  to  free 
myself;  He  gave  me  a  new  kind  of  acquittal,  enabling  me  to 
get  another  creditor,  because  I  had  not  the  means  of  dis- 
charging my  debt.  Yet,  not  nature,  but  sin,  had  made  us" 
debtors;  by  our  sins  we  contracted  heavy  debts  so  that  we 
who  were  free  became  bound,  for  a  debtor  is  one  who  uses 
any  of  a  creditor's  money.  Sin  is  from  the  Devil.  That 
wicked  one,  as  it  were,  has  these  treasures  among  his  pos- 
sessions, for  as  Christ's  riches  are  virtues,  so  the  Devil's  pos- 
sessions are  crimes.  He  had  reduced  the  human  race  to 
everlasting  captivity  under  a  heavy  debt  of  inherited  liability, 
which  our  forefather,  being  under  debt,  had  transmitted  by 
legacy  to  his  posterity.  The  Lord  Jesus  came;  He  offered  His 
death  for  the  death  of  all;  He  poured  out  His  blood  for  the 
blood  of  everyone. 

8  A  reference  to  Luke  7.41,  which  Ambrose  has  not  quoted  in  full  in 
this  letter. 


388  SAINT  AMBROSE 

We,  then,  have  changed  our  creditor;  we  have  not  entirely 
escaped,  or,  rather,  we  have  escaped,  but  the  debt  remains, 
while  the  interest  is  canceled,  the  Lord  Jesus  saying:  To 
them  that  are  bound:  Come  forth.  And  to  them  that  are  in 
prison:  Go  forth/9  for  your  sins  have  been  forgiven.  He  has 
forgiven  all  and  there  is  no  one  whom  He  has  not  set  free. 
For  it  is  written  that  He  forgave  eall  your  sins,  canceling  the 
decree  against  us/10  Why,  then,  do  we  hold  decrees  of  others 
and  wish  to  make  exactions  of  others,  while  we  enjoy  our 
own  freedom?  He  who  forgave  all  required  of  all  that  each 
forgive  others,  remembering  his  own  forgiveness. 

See  to  it  that  you  do  not  get  into  a  worse  state  as  creditor 
than  you  did  as  debtor,  like  the  man  in  the  Gospel  whose 
master  forgave  his  whole  debt,  but  who  began  later  to  demand 
of  his  fellow  servant  what  he  had  not  paid,  so  that  the 
master  in  anger  exacted  from  him  with  great  severity  what 
he  had  forgiven  him  before.  Let  us  beware  of  this  happening 
to  us,  that  by  not  forgiving  what  is  owed  to  us  we  be  held 
responsible  for  what  we  owe,  for  it  is  written  in  the  words  of 
the  Lord  Jesus :  'So  also  my  heavenly  Father  will  do  to  you, 
if  you  do  not  each  forgive  your  brothers  from  your  hearts.'11 
Let  us  who  have  been  forgiven  much  forgive  a  little,  and 
let  us  realize  that  we  will  be  more  acceptable  to  God  the 
more  we  forgive,  for  we  are  more  pleasing  to  God  the  more 
we  have  been  forgiven. 

Then,  when  the  Pharisee  was  asked  by  the  Lord :  'Which 
of  them  loved  him  more?'  He  answered:  'He,  I  suppose,  to 
whom  he  forgave  more.'  And  the  Lord  replied:  Thou  hast 
judged  rightly/12 

The  Pharisee's  judgment  is  praised,  but  his  affection  is 
disapproved.  He  judges  well  of  others,  but  he  does  not  believe 
what  he  thinks  of  others.  You  hear  a  Jew  praise  the  Church's 


9  Isa.  49.8. 

10  Col.  2.13,14. 

11  Cf.  Matt.  18.27-35. 

12  Luke  7.42,43. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  389 

discipline,  proclaim  its  true  grace,  honor  the  Church's  priests; 
you  ask  him  to  believe,  but  he  refuses,  so  that  what  he  praises 
in  us  he  himself  does  not  follow.  It  was  not  ample  praise  he 
heard  from  Christ:  'Thou  hast  judged  rightly,'  for  Cain  also 
made  his  offerings  rightly,  but  did  not  divide  rightly,  and  so 
God  said  to  him:  'If  thou  oflferest  rightly,  but  do  not  divide 
rightly,  thou  has  sinned,  be  still.'13  In  like  manner  this  man 
offered  rightly,  because  he  judged  that  Christ  ought  to  be 
more  loved  by  Christians,  for  He  forgave  us  many  sins,  but 
he  did  not  divide  rightly,  because  he  thought  that  the  One 
who  forgave  men  their  sins  could  be  ignorant  of  men's  sins. 

Therefore  He  says  to  Simon:  'Dost  thou  see  this  woman? 
I  came  into  thy  house;  thou  gavest  me  no  water  for  my  feet; 
but  she  has  bathed  my  feet  with  tears.'14  We  are  all  the  one 
body  of  Christ,  whose  head  is  God,  whose  members  we 
are;15  some  perhaps  are  the  eyes,  like  the  Prophets;  others, 
teeth,  as  the  Apostles  who  passed  the  food  of  the  Gospel 
teaching  into  our  hearts,  and  so  it  is  written:  'His  eyes  are 
bright  with  wine,  his  teeth  whiter  than  milk.'16  His  hands  are 
those  who  are  seen  carrying  out  good  works.  Those  who 
bestow  the  strength  of  nourishment  upon  the  poor  are  His 
belly.  Some  are  His  feet,  and  would  that  I  were  worthy  to  be 
His  heel!  He  pours  water  on  the  feet  of  Christ  who  forgives 
the  lowly  their  sins,  and,  in  setting  free  the  common  man,  he 
bathes  the  feet  of  Christ. 

He  pours  water  on  Christ's  feet  who  cleanses  his  conscience 
from  the  filth  of  sin,  for  Christ  walks  in  the  hearts  of  each 
and  every  one.  Beware  of  having  a  soiled  conscience  and 
beginning  to  defile  the  feet  of  Christ.  Beware  of  His  stum- 
bling on  a  thorn  of  wickedness  in  you,  for  this  would  hurt  His 
heel  as  He  walks  in  you.  This  is  why  the  Pharisee  poured  no 
water  on  Christ's  feet,  because  he  had  not  a  soul  free  from 

13  Gen.  4.7. 

14  Luke  7.44. 

15  Cf.  1  Cor.  12.12. 

16  Cf.  Gen.  49.12. 


390  SAINT  AMBROSE 

the  filth  of  unbelief.  And  how  could  he  wash  his  conscience 
if  he  had  not  received  the  water  of  Christ?  But  the  Church 
has  this  water  and  the  Church  has  tears,  the  water  of  baptism, 
the  tears  of  penance.  Faith  which  weeps  over  former  sins 
bewares  of  sinning  anew.  Therefore,  Simon  the  Pharisee,  who 
had  no  water,  had,  of  course,  no^  tears.  How  could  he  have 
tears  if  he  did  not  do  penance,  for,  not  believing  in  Christ, 
he  had  no  tears?  If  he  had  had  them,  he  would  have  bathed 
his  eyes  so  that  he  could  see  Christ  whom  he  did  not  see 
although  he  was  at  table  with  Him.  If  he  had  seen  Him, 
surely  he  would  never  have  doubted  His  power. 

The  Pharisee  had  no  hair,  since  he  could  not  recognize  the 
Nazarite,  but  the  Church  has  it,  for  she  sought  the  Nazarite. 
Hairs  are  considered  among  the  superfluities  of  the  body,  but, 
if  they  are  anointed,  they  give  forth  a  good  perfume  and  are 
an  ornament  to  the  head;  if  they  are  not  anointed  with  oil, 
they  are  a  burden.  Thus  riches  are  a  burden  if  you  do  not 
know  how  to  use  them,  if  you  do  not  sprinkle  them  with  the 
perfume  of  Christ.  But  if  you  feed  the  poor,  and  wash  their 
wounds,  and  cleanse  their  filth,  you  have  indeed  wiped  the 
feet  of  Christ. 

'Thou  gavest  me  no  kiss,  but  she,  from  the  moment  she 
entered,  has  not  ceased  to  kiss  my  feet.'17  A  kiss  is  a  mark  of 
love.  How,  then,  can  a  Jew  have  a  kiss,  who  has  not  known 
peace,  who  has  not  received  peace  from  Christ  when  He 
said:  'My  peace  I  give  you,  my  peace  I  leave  unto  you/18 
The  synagogue  has  no  kiss,  but  the  Church  has,  for  she  waited 
and  loved  and  said:  'Let  him  kiss  me  with  the  kiss  of  his 
mouth.'19  She  wished  with  His  kiss  to  quench  gradually  the 
burning  of  the  long  desire  which  had  grown  with  longing 
for  the  Lord's  coming;  she  wished  to  satisfy  her  thirst  with 
this  boon.  Therefore,  the  holy  Prophet  says :  'Thou  wilt  open 

17  Luke  7.43. 

18  John  14.27. 

19  Cant.  1.1. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  391 

my  mouth,  and  it  shall  declare  thy  praise.320  One  who  praises 
the  Lord  Jesus  gives  Him  a  kiss;  one  who  praises  surely 
believes.  David  himself  says:  'I  trusted,  even  when  I  spoke/21 
and  above:  'Let  my  mouth  be  full  of  thy  praise,  and  let  me 
sing  thy  glory.'22 

The  same  Scripture  teaches  you  of  the  infusion  of  special 
grace,  how  he  gives  a  kiss  to  Christ  who  receives  the  Spirit, 
the  holy  Prophet  saying:  'I  opened  my  mouth,  and  drew  in 
the  Spirit.523  He  kisses  Christ  who  confesses  Him:  Tor  with 
the  heart  a  man  believes  unto  justice,  and  with  the  mouth 
profession  is  made  unto  salvation.'24  He  truly  kisses  Christ's 
feet  who,  in  reading  the  Gospel,  recognizes  the  acts  of  the 
Lord  Jesus  and  admires  them  with  holy  affection,  and  so 
with  a  reverent  kiss,  as  it  were,  he  caresses  the  footprints  of 
the  Lord  as  He  walks.  We  kiss  Christ,  therefore,  in  the  kiss 
of  Communion:  'Let  him  who  reads  understand.'25 

How  could  a  Jew  have  this  kiss?  For  he  who  did  not 
believe  in  His  coming  did  not  believe  in  His  passion.  How 
does  he  believe  that  He  suffered  whom  he  did  not  believe  to 
have  come?  The  Pharisee,  therefore,  had  no  kiss  except 
perhaps  that  of  the  traitor  Judas.  But  even  Judas  did  not 
have  a  kiss,  and  when  he  wished  to  show  the  Jews  the 
promised  kiss  as  a  sign  of  betrayal  the  Lord  says  to  him: 
'Judas,  dost  thou  betray  the  Son  of  Man  with  a  kiss?526  that 
is,  you  are  offering  Me  a  kiss,  and  you  do  not  have  the  love 
of  a  kiss;  you  offer  a  kiss,  and  you  know  not  the  mystery  of  a 
kiss.  It  is  not  the  kiss  of  the  lips  which  is  sought,  but  of  the 
heart  and  soul. 

But  you  say:  He  kissed  the  Lord.  Yes,  he  kissed  with  his 

20  Ps.  70.8. 

21  Ps.  115.10. 

22  Ps.  70.8. 

23  Ps.  118.131. 

24  Rom.  10.10. 

25  Matt.  24.15. 

26  Luke  22.48. 


392  SAINT  AMBROSE 

lips.  This  kiss  the  Jewish  people  have,  and  so  it  is  written: 
'This  people  honors  me  with  their  lips,  but  their  heart  is  far 
from  me.527  Therefore,  one  who  has  not  faith  and  love  has 
not  a  kiss,  for  with  a  kiss  the  strength  of  love  is  impressed. 
Where  there  is  not  love,  there  is  not  faith,  there  is  not 
tenderness,  and  what  sweetness  of  kisses  can  there  be? 

But  the  Church  does  not  cease  to  kiss  Christ's  feet,  and 
demands  not  one  but  many  kisses  in  the  Canticle  of  Can- 
ticles,28 since  like  blessed  Mary  she  listens  to  His  every  saying, 
she  receives  His  every  word,  when  the  Gospel  or  the  Prophets 
are  read,  and  she  keeps  all  these  words  in  her  heart.29  The 
Church  alone  has  kisses,  like  a  bride,  for  a  kiss  is  a  pledge  of 
nuptials  and  the  privilege  of  wedlock.  How  could  a  Jew  have 
kisses,  since  he  does  not  believe  in  the  Bridegroom?  How 
could  a  Jew  have  kisses,  if  he  still  does  not  know  that  the 
Bridegroom  has  come? 

He  has  not  only  no  kisses,  but  neither  does  he  have  oil 
to  anoint  Christ's  feet,30  for  if  he  had  had  oil,  he  would  have, 
before  now,  softened  his  own  neck.  Therefore,  Moses  says: 
Tor  it  is  a  stiff-necked  people,'31  and  the  Lord  says  that  the 
Levite  and  the  priest  passed  by  and  neither  of  them  poured 
oil  or  wine  into  the  wounds  of  the  man  beaten  by  robbers,32 
for  they  had  nothing  to  pour,  but,  if  they  had  had  oil,  they 
would  have  poured  it  into  their  own  wounds.  But  Isaias 
declares:  'They  cannot  apply  ointment  nor  oil  nor  bandage.'33 

But  the  Church  has  oil  with  which  she  dresses  her  chil- 
dren's wounds  lest  the  severity  of  the  wound  work  deep  within. 
She  has  oil  which  she  received  secretly.  With  this  oil  Aser 
washed  his  feet,  as  it  is  written:  'A  blessed  son  is  Aser,  and 

27  Matt.  15.8,  quoting  Isa.  29.13. 

28  Cf.  Cant.  1.1. 

29  Cf.  Luke  2.51. 

30  Cf.  Luke  7.46. 

31  Exod.  34.9. 

32  Cf.  Luke  10.31,32. 

33  Isa.  1.6. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  393 

he  shall  be  acceptable  to  his  brethren,  and  shall  dip  his 
foot  in  oil.'34  With  this  oil  the  Church  anoints  the  necks  of 
her  children  so  that  they  may  take  the  yoke  of  Christ;  with 
this  oil  she  anointed  the  martyrs  so  that  they  might  wipe  off 
the  dust  of  this  world;  with  this  oil  she  anointed  confessors 
lest  they  give  way  to  toil,  succumb,  being  weary,  or  be  over- 
come by  the  heat  of  this  world.  Therefore  did  she  anoint 
them  so  that  she  might  cool  them  with  the  oil  of  the  Spirit. 

The  synagogue  has  not  this  oil,  for  it  has  not  the  olive, 
not  having  known  that  dove  which  carried  an  olive  branch 
after  the  flood.35  That  dove  descended  later  when  Christ  was 
being  baptized,  and  it  remained  over  Him,  as  John  testifies 
in  the  Gospel,  saying:  *I  beheld  the  Spirit  descending  as  a 
dove  from  heaven,  and  it  abode  upon  him.'36  How  did  he  see 
the  dove  who  did  not  see  Him  over  whom  the  Spirit  descended 
as  a  dove? 

The  Church,  therefore,  washes  the  feet  of  Christ  and 
wipes  them  with  her  hair  and  anoints  them  with  oil  and 
pours  ointment  upon  them,  since  not  only  does  she  care  for  the 
wounded  and  fondle  the  weary,  but  she  also  bedews  them 
with  the  sweet  perfume  of  grace.  And  she  pours  this  grace 
not  only  on  the  rich  and  powerful,  but  also  on  men  of  lowly 
birth.  She  weighs  all  in  an  equal  balance;  she  receives  all  into 
the  same  bosom;  she  fondles  all  in  the  same  embrace. 

Christ  died  once;  He  was  buried  once;  nevertheless,  He 
wishes  ointment  poured  upon  His  feet  each  day.  What  feet  of 
Christ  are  they  that  we  pour  ointment  upon?  They  are  the 
feet  of  Christ  of  whom  He  Himself  says:  'What  you  have 
done  for  one  of  the  least  of  these,  you  have  done  to  me.'37 
These  feet  the  woman  in  the  Gospel  refreshes,  these  she 
bedews  with  her  tears,38  when  sin  is  forgiven  the  lowest  of 

34  Deut.  33.24. 

35  Cf,  Gen.  7.11. 

36  John  1.32. 

37  Matt.  25.40. 

38  Cf.  Luke  7.38. 


394  SAINT  AMBROSE 

men,  guilt  washed  away,  and  pardon  granted.  These  feet  he 
kisses  who  loves  even  the  least  of  God's  people.  These  feet  he 
anoints  with  ointment  who  imparts  the  favor  of  his  gentleness 
to  those  who  are  more  frail.  In  these  the  martyrs,  in  these 
the  Apostles,  in  these  the  Lord  Jesus  Himself  declares  He  is 
honored. 

You  see  how  virtuous  the  Lord  is,  that  He  urges  you  to 
piety  through  His  own  example,  for  He  is  virtuous  even  when 
He  offers  reproof.  Accusing  the  Jews,  He  says :  £O  my  people, 
what  have  I  done  to  thee  or  in  what  have  I  grieved  thee  or 
in  what  have  I  molested  thee?  Answer  thou  me.  For  I 
brought  thee  out  of  the  land  of  Egypt  and  I  delivered  thee 
out  of  the  house  of  servitude.'  And  He  adds:  'And  I  sent 
before  thy  face  Moses  and  Aaron  and  Mary.'39  Bear  in  mind 
what  Balac  plotted  against  you,  that  is,  the  one  seeking  the 
help  of  magical  art;  but  still  I  did  not  permit  him  to  harm 
you.  As  an  exile  in  a  foreign  country,  you  were  overwhelmed 
and  hard  pressed  with  burdensome  trials;  I  sent  before  your 
face  Moses  and  Aaron  and  Mary,  and  he,  who  had  robbed  the 
exile,  was  himself  first  robbed.40  You  who  had  lost  your 
possessions  gained  those  of  others,  being  freed  from  the 
enemy  who  walled  you  in,  and  safely  you  saw  the  destruction 
of  your  enemies  amid  the  waves,  while  the  same  water  which 
surrounded  and  carried  you  forward  flowed  back  and  drown- 
ed the  enemy.  When  you  needed  food,  as  you  came  through 
the  desert,  did  I  not  provide  a  rain  of  food  and  provisions  in 
abundance  wherever  you  went?41  Did  I  not  bring  you,  after 
subduing  all  your  enemies,  into  the  country  of  the  Botrys?42 
Did  I  not  deliver  to  you  Sehon,  King  of  the  Amorrhites43 
(that  is,  the  proud,  the  king  of  those  who  provoke  you),  and 
did  I  not  hand  over  to  you  the  King  of  Hai  alive,  whom  you, 
because  of  an  ancient  curse,  fixed  to  the  wood  and  hung 

39  Mich.  6.3,4. 

40  Cf.  Exod.  14.29. 

41  Cf.  Exod.  16.4. 

42  Cf.  Num.  13.24,25    (Septuagint) .    Botrys  is  called  Wady  Eshcol  in  the 
Vulgate. 

43  Cf.  Num.  21.26. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  395 

upon  a  cross?44  Why  should  I  mention  the  slaughter  of  the 
troops  of  the  five  kings  who  endeavored  to  keep  the  land 
they  owed  you?  And  in  return  for  all  this,  O  man,  what  do  I 
ask  but  that  you  do  judgment  and  justice,  and  love  mercy, 
and  be  prepared  to  walk  with  the  Lord  your  God. 

What  was  His  reproach  through  the  Prophet  Nathan  to 
King  David  himself,45  that  pious  and  gentle  man?  I  chose 
you,  He  said,  the  youngest  of  your  brethren;  I  filled  you  with 
the  spirit  of  meekness;  I  anointed  you  king  through  Samuel 
in  whom  I  and  My  name  dwelt;  I 'removed  that  former 
king46  whom  an  evil  spirit  induced  to  persecute  the  Lord's 
priests,  and  from  an  exile  I  made  you  a  conqueror.  I  raised 
up  to  your  throne  one  of  your  seed,  not  an  heir  as  much  as 
partner;  I  made  the  strange  nations  subject  to  you,  to  serve 
you,  whereas  they  had  been  your  attackers.  Will  you  draw 
those  who  serve  Me  into  the  power  of  My  enemies?  And  will 
you  take  away  what  belonged  to  a  servant  of  Mine,  and 
thereby  be  branded  with  sin,  and  will  you  give  My  adversaries 
an  occasion  to  boast? 

Therefore,  O  Emperor — for  I  will  speak  not  only  about 
you,  but  to  you — since  you  observe  how  seriously  the  Lord  is 
wont  to  censure,  take  thought,  now  that  you  have  become 
glorious,  to  submit  all  the  more  to  your  Maker.  For  it  is 
written:  'Say  not  when  the  Lord  your  God  has  brought  you 
into  another's  land  and  you  have  eaten  another's  fruit:  "My 
virtue  and  my  justice  gave  this  to  me,  but  the  Lord  God 
bestowed  it,  but  Christ  in  His  mercy  brought  it."  '47  Thus,  in 
loving  this  body,  that  is,  the  Church,  bring  water  for  His 
feet,  and  kiss  His  feet,48  not  only  pardoning  those  who  have 
become  enmeshed  in  sin,  but  by  your  peace  giving  them 
concord  and  putting  them  at  peace.  Pour  ointment  on  His 

44  Cf.  Josue  8.23,29. 

45  Cf.  2  Kings  12.7-12.  Ambrose  here  makes  the  reproach  of  Nathan  fall 
upon  Theodosius. 

46  Valens. 

47  Deut.  9.4. 

48  Cf.  John  12.3. 


396  SAINT  AMBROSE 

feet,  that  the  whole  house  wherein  Christ  reclines  at  table 
may  be  filled  with  the  odor  of  your  ointment,  that  all  at  table 
with  Him  may  be  pleased  with  your  perfume;  in  other  words, 
pay  honor  to  the  least  [of  men].  Thus,  angels  may  be 
gladdened  by  the  forgiveness  of  these,  as  over  one  sinner 
doing  penance;49  the  Apostles  may  rejoice,  the  Prophets  may 
delight !  The  eyes  cannot  say  to  the  hand :  'We  do  not  need 
thy  help';  nor,  again,  the  head  to  the  feet:  'I  have  no  need 
of  you.'50  But,  because  all  are  needed,  guard  the  whole  body 
of  the  Lord  Jesus,  that  He  also  by  His  heavenly  condescension 
may  preserve  your  kingdom. 

When  I  came  down  from  the  pulpit,  he  [the  emperor] 
said  to  me:  'You  spoke  about  me.'  I  answered:  'I  preached 
what  is  intended  to  benefit  you.'  Then  he  said:  'I  really 
made  too  harsh  a  decision  about  the  bishop's  repairing  the 
synagogue.  The  monks  do  many  outrageous  things.'  Then 
Timosius,  general  of  the  cavalry  and  infantry,  began  being 
abusive  about  the  monks.  I  answered  him:  'I  am  dealing 
with  the  emperor,  as  is  fitting,  for  I  know  that  he  fears  the 
Lord;  but  one  must  deal  otherwise  with  you,  for  you  speak 
so  rudely.' 

Then,  when  I  had  stood  for  some  time,  I  said  to  the 
emperor:  'Let  me  confidently  sacrifice  in  your  behalf;  set  my 
mind  at  rest.'  When  he  continued  sitting  and  nodding,  and 
made  no  promise  openly,  and  I  remained  standing,  he  said 
he  would  correct  the  edict.  I  immediately  went  on  to  say 
that  he  should  end  the  whole  investigation,  so  that  the  count 
would  not  harm  the  Christians  in  any  way  on  the  pretext  of  an 
investigation.  He  promised.  I  said  to  him:  1  am  acting  on 
your  promise,'  and  I  repeated :  'I  am  acting  on  your  promise.' 
'Go  ahead,'  he  said,  'on  my  promise.'  So  I  went  to  the  altar, 

49  Cf.  Luke  15.10. 

50  1  Cor.  1221. 


LETTERS  TO  HIS  SISTER  397 

but  I  would  not  have  done  so  if  he  had  not  fully  promised.51 
Indeed,  so  great  was  the  grace  of  the  Offering  that  I  myself 
felt  that  the  favor  had  been  very  pleasing  to  our  God,  and 
that  we  were  in  the  presence  of  God.  Thus,  all  was  done  as 
I  wished. 

51  This  sentence  reveals  Ambrose's  determination  to  establish  very  de- 
finite episcopal  and  imperial  spheres  of  influence. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN 


63.  Ambrose  to  Alypius1 

\  HE  HONORABLE  Antiochus2  delivered  to  me  your 
Excellency's  letter,  and  I  have  not  been  remiss  in 
sending  a  reply.  I  dispatched  a  letter  to  you  by  my 
own  messengers,  and,  unless  I  am  mistaken,  sent  another 
when  a  second  opportunity  arose.3  Feeling  as  I  do  that  we  are 
to  amass  rather  than  carefully  weigh  out  tokens  of  friend- 
ship, it  became  my  duty  to  make  some  return  of  correspond- 
ence, especially  since  our  friend  upon  returning  put  me 
under  obligation  by  mentioning  your  letters.  Only  thus  might 
I  stand  clear  with  each  of  you,  and  he  with  you,  for  he  was 
bound  to  bring  back  to  you  what  he  had  received  from  you. 
Farewell,  and  love  those  who  love  you. 


64.  Ambrose  to  Antonius1 

You  are  never  unmentioned  by  me,  nor  shall  I  ever  com- 
plain of  being  passed  over  in  silence,  for  I  know  that  I  am  not 

1  Undated;  the  addressee  is  undoubtedly  Faltonius  Probus  Alypius,  pre- 
fect of  the  city  in  391. 

2  Antiochus  was  proconsul  of  Achaia  in  395.  He  and  Alypius  are  also 
both  mentioned  in  the  correspondence  of  Symmachus. 

3  Internal  evidence  of  other  letters  of  Ambrose  to  Alypius. 

1  Undated,  to  Claudius  Antonius,  consul  in  382   (?) . 

399 


400  SAINT  AMBROSE 

absent  from  your  heart.  But,  since  you  are  concerned  over 
what  is  precious,  how  can  you  refuse  to  give  what  others 
often  receive,  not  as  a  token  of  love  but  as  an  exchange  of 
civility?2 

Indeed,  from  my  own  feelings  I  can  in  turn  judge  yours, 
believing  I  am  never  far  from  you  nor  you  from  me,  so 
closely  are  we  united  in  our  souls.  I  should  never  feel  I 
need  your  letters  or  you  mine,  for  I  talk  with  you  each  day, 
turning  toward  you  my  gaze,  my  attention,  and  all  my 
respects. 

Rivalry  with  you  in  acts  like  these  gives  me  pleasure,  for — 
to  speak  openly  with  one  who  is  inseparable  from  my  heart — 
your  letters  put  me  to  shame.  I  beg  you,  then,  cease 
expressing  your  gratitude,  for  my  respects  to  you  have  their 
full  reward  if  I  know  I  have  not  failed  in  my  duty  toward 
you. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  I  also  love  you. 


65.  Ambrose  to  Atticus1 

You  sent  a  letter  by  my  friend  Priscus.  He  delivered  it  to 
me  and  I  am  doing  the  same  to  him.  Continue  to  love  Priscus 
as  you  do,  and  even  more  than  you  do;  this  I  advise  because 

1  esteem  my  friend  Priscus  very  highly.  I  feel  toward  him 
that  pristine  love  of  ours  which  from  childhood  on  has  grown 
with  our  years.  But  it  was  a  long  while  since  I  had  seen  him, 
so  that  not  only  by  his  name  but  by  the  long  interval  of 
time  he  came  to  me  as  truly  'pristine.' 

Farewell,  and  love  us  who  cherish  you,  for  we  love  you. 

2  Viz.,  a  letter. 


1  Undated;  it  is  probable  that  Atticus  was  the  consul  of  397. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  401 

66.  Ambrose  to  Bellicius,  greetings1- 

You  tell  me  that  while  you  lay  very  ill  you  believed  in  the 
Lord  Jesus  and  soon  began  to  grow  better.  This  sickness  was 
intended  for  your  health  and  brought  you  more  pain  than 
peril,  since  you  were  long  postponing  the  fulfillment  of  your 
promise.2  This  is  the  meaning  of  the  words:  *I  will  strike, 
and  I  will  heal.13  He  struck  you  with  illness;  He  healed  you 
with  faith.  He  saw  the  inward  desire  of  your  soul,  not  void 
of  pious  longing,  but  troubled  by  delays,  and  He  chose  to 
admonish  you  in  such  a  way  as  not  to  harm  your  health  and 
yet  to  incite  your  devotion. 

How  could  He  harm  your  health,  He  who  is  wont  to  say, 
as  we  read  in  the  Gospel:  'I  will  come  and  cure  him'?4  In 
the  same  way,  undoubtedly,  when  invited  by  your  friends  to 
visit  your  home,  He  said:  'I  will  come  and  cure  him.' 
Although,  perhaps,  you  did  not  hear  Him,  He  as  God  spoke 
imperceptibly,  and  if  you  did  not  see  Him,  there  is  no 
possible  doubt  that  He  visited  you  though  without  a  body. 

You  saw  Him,  for  you  believed  in  Him;  you  saw  Him,  for 
you  received  Him  into  the  dwelling  of  your  mind;  you  saw 
Him  in  spirit;  you  saw  with  inner  eyes.  Hold  fast  your  new 
Guest,  long  awaited,  but  lately  received,  in  whom  cwe  live 
and  have  our  being  and  move.'5  You  have  tasted  the  first 
fruits  of  faith;  let  not  the  word  be  hidden  in  your  heart. 
This  is  all  grace,  this  is  every  gift.  No  one  appraises  the 
secret  recesses  of  a  house  from  the  entrance,  since  all  the 
fruit  is  within;6  the  wise  man  will  not  look  at  a  house 

1  This  and  the  following  letter  are  undated. 

2  Bellicius  had  evidently  promised  to  become  a  Christian  and  delayed 
the  fulfillment  of  the  promise  until  stricken  with  illness. 

3  Deut.  32.39. 

4  Matt.  8.7. 

5  Acts  17.28. 

6  A  reference  to  the  sacraments  of  baptism,   confirmation,  and  Holy 
Eucharist,  all  of  which  Bellicius  must  first  learn  about  before  he  is 
allowed  to  receive  them. 


402  SAINT  AMBROSE 

from  a  window  and  it  is  foolish  for  men  to  listen  at  the  door. 

The  mysteries  of  the  more  perfect  sacraments  are  of  two 
kinds,  as  Scripture  says:  'Eye  has  not  seen  nor  ear  heard, 
what  things  God  has  prepared  for  those  who  love  Him.'7  Of 
one  kind  are  the  things  which  the  Prophets  foretold  about  the 
future  glory,  for  they  were  revealed  to  them,  and  the  saints 
have  preached  the  good  tidings  cby  the  Spirit  of  God  sent 
from  heaven.  Into  these  things  angels  desire  to  look/  as  the 
Apostle  Peter  says.8  Of  still  another  kind  are  the  mysteries 
wherein  are  the  redemption  of  the  world,  remission  of  sin, 
division  of  graces,  participation  in  the  sacraments.  On  re- 
ceiving these  you  will  marvel  that  man  has  been  given  so 
transcendent  a  gift  and  you  will  know  that  even  the  manna, 
which  we  so  wonder  at  for  having  been  rained  down  from 
heaven  upon  the  Jews,9  did  not  have  such  grace  or  power 
to  work  our  salvation.  All  who  received  the  manna  in  the 
desert  are  dead,  except  Josue  the  son  of  Nun,  and  Caleb,10 
but  one  who  tastes  this  sacrament  will  never  die. 

May  the  Lord  Jesus  give  you  health!  Farewell. 


67.  Ambrose  to  Bellicius 

You  have  heard,  my  brother,  the  reading  of  the  Gospel 
where  it  is  related  that  the  Lord  Jesus,  as  He  was  passing  on 
His  way,  saw  a  man  blind  from  birth.  If  the  Lord  Jesus, 
when  He  saw  him,  thought  he  should  not  be  passed  by,  then 
we  ought  not  pass  by  one  whom  the  Lord  did  not  pass  by, 
especially  since  he  had  been  blind  from  birth,  a  fact  that  is 
mentioned  not  without  good  reason. 

There  is  a  blindness  resulting  from  sickness  which  obscures 

7  1  Cor.  2.9. 

8  1  Peter  1.12. 

9  Cf.  Exod.  16.15,16. 
10  Cf.  Num.  32.12. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  403 

the  vision  and  is  remedied  by  the  passage  of  time.  There  is  a 
blindness  which  is  caused  by  flowing  humors  and  this,  also, 
when  the  trouble  is  removed.,  is  generally  cured  by  the  skill  of 
medicine.  From  this  you  may  know  that  when  one  is  cured 
who  has  been  blind  from  birth  it  is  not  a  case  of  skill  but  of 
power.  The  Lord  gave  health,  and  He  used  no  medicine,  for 
the  Lord  Jesus  healed  those  whom  no  one  else  had  cured. 

How  stupid  of  the  Jews  to  ask:  'Did  this  man  sin,  or  his 
parents?'  attributing  bodily  weaknesses  to  punishment  for  sin. 
The  Lord  therefore  said:  'Neither  has  this  man  sinned,  nor 
his  parents,  but  the  works  of  God  were  to  be  made  manifest 
in  him.'  What  fell  short  of  its  nature,  this  the  Creator,  the 
Author  of  nature,  was  able  to  remedy.  He  then  added:  'As 
long  as  I  am  in  the  world  I  am  the  light  of  the  world,'1  that 
is,  all  the  blind  can  see  if  they  search  for  me,  the  light.  Come 
also  you,  and  be  enlightened  that  you  may  be  able  to  see.2 

What  did  He  wish  in  that  He  who  gave  back  life  at  His 
command  bestowed  health  by  His  word,  saying  to  the  dead: 
'Come  forth'3  and  Lazarus  carne  forth  from  the  tomb;  saying 
to  the  paralytic:  'Arise,  take  up  thy  pallet'4  and  the  paralytic 
arose  and  began  to  take  up  the  pallet  on  which  he  was 
carried  when  he  was  paralyzed  in  all  his  limbs;  why,  I  say, 
did  He  spit  and  make  clay  and  spread  the  clay  over  the  eyes 
of  the  blind  man  and  say  to  him:  '  "Go,  wash  in  the  pool  of 
Siloe"  (which  is  interpreted  "sent")?  So  he  went  away  and 
washed  and  began  to  see.'5  What  is  the  reason  for  this?  An 
important  reason,  unless  I  am  mistaken,  for  he  whom  Jesus 
touches  sees  more. 

Notice  at  the  same  time  His  divinity  and  His  sanctity.  As 
the  Light  He  touched  and  shed  light;  as  Priest  He  fulfilled  in 
the  figure  of  baptism  the  mysteries  of  spiritual  grace.  He  spat 

1  John  9.2,3,5. 

2  Cf.  Ps.  33.6. 

3  John  11.44. 

4  Mark  2.11. 

5  John  9.6,7. 


404  SAINT  AMBROSE 

so  that  you  might  realize  that  the  things  within  Christ  are 
light.  One  who  is  cleansed  by  the  means  which  Christ  uses 
truly  sees.  His  spittle  cleanses  and  so  does  His  word,  as  you 
have:  'You  are  already  clean  because  of  the  word  that  I 
have  spoken  to  you.'6 

This  making  clay  and  spreading  it  on  the  eyes  of  the  blind 
man,  what  does  it  signify  to  us  but  that  He  who  made  man 
from  clay7  restored  man  to  health  by  smearing  him  with  clay, 
and  that  this  flesh  of  our  clay  may  receive  through  the 
sacrament  of  baptism  the  light  of  eternal  life?  Do  you,  also, 
draw  near  to  Siloe,  to  one  who  was  sent  by  the  Father,  as 
you  read:  'My  teaching  is  not  my  own,  but  his  who  sent 
me.58  Let  Christ  wash  you  that  you  may  see.  Come  to  baptism; 
now  is  the  time;  come  in  haste  that  you  may  say:  1  went 
and  washed,  and  I  began  to  see';9  that  you  may  say:  'I  was 
blind,  and  I  began  to  see';  that  you  may  say  as  he  [Paul] 
said  when  the  light  had  been  shed  upon  him:  'The  night  is 
far  advanced;  the  day  is  at  hand/10 

The  night  was  blindness.  It  was  night  when  Judas  received 
the  morsel  from  Jesus  and  Satan  entered  into  him.11  For 
Judas,  in  whom  was  the  Devil,  it  was  night;  for  John,  who 
reclined  on  Christ's  breast,  it  was  day.  It  was  day,  too,  for 
Peter  when  he  saw  the  light  of  Christ  on  the  mountain.12 
For  the  others  it  was  night,  but  for  Peter  it  was  day.  But  to 
that  very  same  Peter  it  was  night  when  he  denied  Christ. 
Then  the  cock  crowed  and  he  began  to  weep,13  in  order  to 
mend  his  wrong,  for  now  the  day  was  at  hand. 

The  Jews  kept  asking  the  blind  man :  'How  were  your  eyes 

6  John  15.3. 

7  Cf.  Gen.  2.7. 

8  John  7.16. 

9  John  9.11. 

10  Rom.  13.12. 

11  Cf.  John  13.27. 

12  Cf.  Matt,  16.2-6. 

13  Cf.  Matt.  26.75. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  405 

opened?'14  Great  madness!  They  asked  what  they  saw;  they 
asked  the  reason  when  they  saw  the  effect. 

'And  they  heaped  abuse  on  him,  saying:  "Thou  art  his 
disciple."  >15  Their  curse  is  a  blessing,  because  their  blessing 
is  a  curse.  'Thou  art  his  disciple,'  they  said.  They  do  good 
when  they  supposed  they  are  doing  harm. 

Farewell,  son,  and  love  us  as  you  do,  for  we  love  you. 


68.  To  Clementianus1 

Today,  my  son,  you  heard  the  lesson  in  the  Apostle  that 
'The  Law  has  been  our  tutor  unto  Christ,  that  we  might  be 
justified  by  faith.'2  It  seems  to  me  that  by  this  one  text  those 
questions  are  resolved  which  ordinarily  trouble  many  persons. 
There  are  those  who  say :  'Since  God  gave  the  Law  to  Moses, 
why  is  it  that  there  are  many  things  in  the  Law  which  seem 
made  void  now  by  the  Gospel?  And  how  can  the  Author  of 
the  two  Testaments  be  one  and  the  same,  when  a  thing 
permitted  in  the  Law  was  no  longer  permitted  when  the 
Gospel  came,  such  as  bodily  circumcision,  though  it  was  then 
given  only  as  a  sign,  in  order  that  the  reality  of  spiritual 
.circumcision  might  be  retained?  But  why  was  it  given  even 
for  a  sign?  Why  is  there  such  a  difference  of  opinion,  so 
that  circumcision,  being  then  considered  piety,  is  now  thought 
an  impiety?  Further,  according  to  the  Law  it  was  ordained 
that  the  Sabbath  be  kept  as  a  holiday,  and  if  one  carried  a 
bundle  of  sticks  he  was  guilty  of  death,3  but  now  we  see 
that  very  day  devoted  to  carrying  burdens  and  conducting 

14  John  9.10. 

15  John  9.28. 

1  An  undated  letter,  attributed  to  Irenaeus  in   the  mss..,  although  its 
contents  connect  it  with  the  following  letter  to  Clementianus. 

2  Gal.  3.24. 

3  Cf.  Num.  15.32-35. 


406  SAINT  AMBROSE 

business  without  any  penalty  being  attached.  There  are  many 
commandments  of  the  Law  which  seem  to  have  ceased  at  the 
present  time.3 

Let  us  consider  the  reason  for  this,  for  not  unintentionally 
did  the  Apostle  say  that  The  Law  has  been  our  tutor  unto 
Christ.'  Who  has  a  tutor,  an  older  person  or  a  youth?  Un- 
doubtedly, a  youth  or  child,  that  is,  one  of  tender  age,  for 
pedagogus,  as  the  word  is  rendered  in  Latin,  means  a  child's 
teacher;  he  cannot  impart  perfect  precepts  to  an  imperfect 
age,  because  it  cannot  bear  them.  Then,  through  the  Prophet, 
the  God  of  the  Law  says :  CI  shall  give  you  statutes  that  are  not 
good/4  that  is,  not  perfect,  for  perfect  is  surely  what  is  good. 
But  the  same  God  has  preserved  the  most  perfect  things  for 
the  Gospel,  as  He  says:  'I  have  not  come  to  destroy  the  Law, 
but  to  fulfill  it/5 

What,  then,  was  the  cause  of  this  diversity  if  not  man's 
changeableness?  He  knew  that  the  Jewish  people  were  stiff- 
necked,  prone  to  fall,  base,  inclined  to  unbelief,  who  heard 
with  their  ears  and  did  not  heed,  who  saw  with  their  eyes 
and  did  not  see,  being  fickle  with  the  instability  of  infancy, 
heedless  of  commands.  And  so  He  provided  the  Law  as  a 
tutor  for  the  unstable  disposition  and  weak  mind  of  His 
people,  and  moderating  the  very  precepts  of  the  Law,  He 
desired  one  to  be  read,  the  other  to  be  understood.  Thus,  the 
fool  would  at  least  keep  watch  over  what  he  was  reading 
and  not  depart  from  the  instruction  of  the  letter,  while  the 
wise  would  understand  the  thought  of  God's  mind  which  the 
letter  did  not  convey;  the  man  lacking  judgment  would  keep 
the  command  of.  the  Law,  the  man  of  judgment  its  mystery. 
Thus  does  the  Law  hold  a  sword's  severity,  as  the  tutor  does 
his  rod,  in  order  to  awe  by  threatening  punishment  of  the 
weakness  of  an  imperfect  people.  Yet,  the  Gospel  has  a 
gentleness  by  which  sins  are  forgiven. 

4  Ezech.  20,25. 

5  Matt.  5.17. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  407 

Rightly,  then,  does  Paul  say  that  cthe  letter  kills,  but  the 
spirit  gives  life.'6  The  letter  circumcised  a  small  part  of  the 
body,  the  understanding  spirit  keeps  the  circumcision  of  the 
entire  soul  and  body,  so  that  chastity  might  be  preserved, 
frugality  loved,  with  the  unnecessary  parts  cut  off  (for  noth- 
ing is  so  unnecessary  as  the  vices  of  greed,  the  sins  of  lust, 
which  did  not  belong  to  nature  but  which  sin  has  caused ) . 
Bodily  circumcision  is  the  symbol,  but  the  reality  is  the 
spiritual  circumcision;  the  one  cuts  off  a  member,  the  other 
sin.  Nature  has  created  nothing  imperfect  in  man,  nor  has 
she  bade  it  be  removed  as  unnecessary.  However,  in  order  that 
those  who  cut  off  part  of  their  body  might  realize  that  there 
is  more  need  for  their  sins  to  be  cut  off,  and  those  persons 
cut  down  who  led  them  to  sin,  even  though  they  are  joined 
by  a  certain  bodily  union,  you  have  the  words:  clf  thy  right 
hand  is  an  occasion  of  sin  to  thee,  cut  it  off  and  cast  it  from 
thee;  for  it  is  better  for  thee  that  one  of  thy  members  should 
be  lost  than  that  thy  whole  body  should  go  into  hell.'7  To  the 
Jews,  therefore,  like  children,  precepts  are  not  given  in  full 
but  only  in  part,  and  they  who  could  not  keep  the  whole 
body  clean  are  bidden  to  keep  clean,  as  it  were,  only  one  part 
of  it. 

They  were  also  commanded  to  keep  the  Sabbath  holiday 
one  day  of  the  week,8  so  that  they  would  be  laden  with  no 
burden,  having  escaped  and  been  released  from  worldly  tasks, 
so  as  to  carry  with  them  to  that  everlasting  sabbath  of  future 
ages  no  burdens  of  grievous  sins.  Yet,  because  He  knew  that 
His  people  were  fickle,  God  demanded  that  the  weak  ones 
observe  but  one  day;  He  reserved  for  the  stronger  ones  the 
full  observance.  The  synagogue  observes  the  day;  the  Church, 
immortality.  In  the  Law  is  a  part ;  in  the  Gospel  is  perfection. 

The  Jewish  people  are  forbidden  to  carry  wood,9  that  is, 

6  2  Cor.  3.6. 

7  Matt.  5.30. 

8  Cf.  Exod.  31.15. 

9  Cf.  Num.  15.33. 


4:08  SAINT  AMBROSE 

such  things  as  are  consumed  by  fire.  One  who  keeps  out  of 
the  sun  has  shade.  The  Sun  of  Justice  does  not  allow  the  shade 
to  hinder  you;  pouring  forth  the  full  light  of  His  grace  He 
says  to  you:  £Go  thy  way,  and  from  now  on  sin  no  more.'10 
The  imitator  of  that  everlasting  Sun  says:  'But  if  anyone 
builds  upon  this  foundation,  gold,  silver,  and  precious  stones, 
wood,  hay,  straw — the  work  of  each  will  be  made  manifest, 
for  the  day  of  the  Lord  will  declare  it,  since  the  day  is  to  be 
revealed  in  fire.  The  fire  will  assay  the  quality  of  everyone's 
work.'11  And  so  let  us  build  upon  Christ  (for  Christ  is  our 
foundation)  that  which  is  not  burned  but  improved.  Gold 
is  improved  by  fire,  so  is  silver  improved. 

You  heard  gold  and  silver  mentioned  and  you  think  of  the 
material;  you  want  to  accumulate  it.  You  are  wasting  my 
effort.  This  gold  and  silver  bring  a  burden,  but  no  enjoy- 
ment. The  burden  of  the  man  who  searches  for  it  is  the 
profit  of  his  heir.  This  gold  is  burnt  like  wood,  not  kept 
forever.  This  silver  will  bring  loss  to  your  life  in  that  day,  not 
gain.  Another  kind  of  gold  and  silver  is  required  of  you, 
that  is,  a  good  thought,  a  fine  word;  from  these  God  says  He 
gives  vessels  of  gold  and  silver.  These  are  God's  gifts:  'The 
words  of  the  Lord  are  sincere,  silver  tried  by  fire,  refined  of 
the  earth,  purified  seven-fold.512  The  beauty  of  your  mind, 
the  brilliance  of  chaste  speech,  are  asked  of  you;  the  bright- 
ness of  faith,  not  the  tinkling  of  silver.  The  one  remains;  the 
other  perishes.  The  one  includes  a  reward  and  we  carry  it 
with  us;  the  other  entails  loss  because  we  leave  it  here. 

If  any  rich  man  thinks  that  the  gold  and  silver  which  he 
has  hoarded  and  stored  away  can  avail  for  his  life,  he  is 
carrying  a  worthless  burden  which  the  fire  of  judgment  will 
destroy.  Rich  men,  leave  here  your  pieces  of  wood  so  that 
your  burden  will  not  add  fuel  to  the  fire  which  is  to  come. 

10  John  8.11-13. 

11  1  Cor.  3.12,13. 

12  Ps.  11.7. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  409 

Your  burden  will  be  lightened  if  you  give  away  some  of  your 
load,  and  what  remains  will  be  no  burden.  Miser,  do  not 
bury  your  treasure,  lest  you  be  a  Christian  in  name  only,  a 
Jew  in  practice,  realizing  that  your  burdens  are  your  punish- 
ment. For  it  has  been  said  to  you,  not  in  the  shade,  but  in 
the  sun:  'If  his  work  abides  he  will  receive  reward;  if  his 
work  burns  he  will  suffer  loss.513 

Accordingly,  like  a  perfect  man  learned  in  the  Law  and 
made  firm  in  the  Gospel,  accept  the  faith  of  both  Testaments, 
for,  as  we  read  today:  'Blessed  is  he  who  sows  upon  every 
water,  where  the  ox  and  the  ass  tread,514  that  is,  who  sows 
upon  the  people  who  follow  the  teaching  of  both  Testaments; 
this  is  the  ploughman's  ox,  wearing  the  yoke  of  the  Law,  of 
which  the  Law  says:  'Thou  shalt  not  muzzle  the  ox  that 
treadeth  out  thy  corn,915  for  this  ox  has  the  horns  of  holy 
Scripture.  But  in  the  Gospel  the  Lord,  representing  the 
people  of  the  Gentiles,  mounts  the  colt  of  an  ass.16 

But  I  think  that,  since  the  word  of  God  is  rich  in  meaning, 
we  should  also  understand  that  an  ox  has  horns  that  fill  one 
with  terror,  that  a  bull  is  fierce,  an  ass  gentle.  This  thought 
is  suited  to  our  purpose,  because  that  man  who  is  both 
severe  and  gentle  is  blessed:  his  severity,  by  striking  terror 
maintains  discipline;  his  gentleness  does  not  crush  innocence; 
for  excessive  severity  often  prompts  a  lie.  God  prefers  being 
loved  to  being  feared,  for  the  Lord  exacts  love,  a  servant 
fear,  although  fear  cannot  last  forever  in  man  because  it  has 
been  written,  as  we  read  today:  'Behold,  in  fear  of  you  they 
will  fear  whom  you  feared.'17 

Farewell,  son,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 

13  1  Cor.  3.14. 

14  Isa.  32.20. 

15  Deut.  25.4. 

16  Cf.  Luke  19.30-37. 

17  Source  unknown. 


410  SAINT  AMBROSE 

69.  Ambrose  to  Clementianus1 

I  am  well  aware  that  nothing  is  more  difficult  than 
treating  properly  the  Apostle's  meaning,  for  even  Origen's 
exposition  of  the  New  Testament  is  far  inferior  to  his  ex- 
position of  the  Old.  Yet,  because  you  feel  that  in  my  previous 
letter  I  have  not  explained  amiss  the  reason  why  the  Law  is 
a  tutor,  I  shall,  in  what  I  say  today,  plan  to  unfold  the  full 
force  of  the  Apostle's  meaning. 

Now,  the  first  part  of  this  discourse  declares  that  no  one 
is  justified  by  the  works  of  the  Law,  but  by  faith,  'Since  those 
who  rely  on  the  works  of  the  Law  are  under  a  curse,'  but 
'Christ  redeemed  us  from  the  curse  of  the  Law,  becoming  a 
curse  for  us.3  The  inheritance  is  not  given  by  the  Law,  but 
by  promise,  for  'The  promises  were  made  to  Abraham  and 
to  his  offspring  .  .  .  who  is  Christ/  The  Law,  therefore,  cwas 
enacted  on  account  of  transgressions,  until  the  offspring 
should  come  to  whom  the  promise  was  made,'  and  so  'All 
things  were  shut  up  under  sin,  that  by  the  faith  of  Jesus 
Christ  the  promise  might  be  given  to  those  who  believe.  .  .  . 
But  now  that  faith  has  come,  we  are  no  longer  under  the 
Law,'  that  is,  under  a  tutor.2  And,  because  we  are  sons  of 
God,  we  all  are  also  in  Christ  Jesus.  But,  if  we  are  in  Christ 
Jesus,  then  we  are  the  seed  of  Abraham,  the  heirs  according 
to  the  promise.  This  is  the  conclusion  which  the  Apostle 
reaches  in  his  thought. 

Yet,  he  meets  the  objection  even  of  the  Jew  who  can  say: 
'I  also  am  an  heir,  for  I  am  under  the  Law.'  The  Law  is 
called  the  Old  Testament,  and  where  there  is  a  testament 
there  is  an  inheritance,  although  the  Apostle  himself  told  the 
Hebrews  that  a  testament  is  of  no  force  while  the  testator 
lives,  but  is  confirmed  by  his  death.3  But,  because  the  Lord 

1  Undated. 

2  Gal.  3.10-16,22-24. 

3  Cf.  Heb.  9.17. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  411 

said  of  the  Jews  in  Jeremias:  'My  inheritance  has  become  to 
me  like  a  lion,'4  he  [Paul]  would  not  say  they  were  not  heirs. 
But  there  are  heirs  without  property,  and  those  with  property, 
and  while  the  testator  lives  those  who  are  mentioned  in  the 
will  are  called  heirs,  though  they  are  without  property. 

Little  children  are  also  heirs,  no  different  from  slaves, 
since  they  are  under  guardians  and  stewards:  'So,3  says  he, 
'we,  too,  were  Jews  enslaved  under  the  elements  of  this  world. 
But  when  the  fullness  of  time  came,  Christ  also  came/5  and 
now  we  are  no  longer  servants,  but  sons,  if  we  believe  in 
Christ.  Thus,  He  gave  them  the  semblance  of  an  inheritance, 
but  withheld  its  possession;  they  have  the  name  of  heir,  but 
not  its  advantage,  for,  like  children  who  are  heirs,  they 
possess  the  bare  name  of  heirship  but  not  its  privilege,  having 
no  right  of  command  or  use,  awaiting  the  fullness  of  their 
age  that  they  may  be  released  from  their  guardians. 

Just  like  children,  so  are  the  Jews  also  under  a  tutor.  The 
Law  is  our  tutor;  a  tutor  brings  us  to  the  master;  Christ  is 
our  only  master:  'Do  not  say  lord  and  master  to  yourselves, 
for  one  only  is  your  master,  the  Christ/6  A  tutor  is  feared, 
the  master  points  out  the  way  to  salvation.  Fear  brings  us  to 
liberty,  liberty  to  faith,  faith  to  love,  love  obtains  adoption, 
adoption  an  inheritance.  Therefore,  where  there  is  faith, 
there  is  freedom,  for  a  slave  acts  in  fear,  a  free  man  through 
faith.  The  one  is  under  the  letter,  the  other  under  grace; 
the  one  in  slavery,  the  other  in  the  spirit;  for  'Where  the 
Spirit  of  the  Lord  is,  there  is  freedom.'7  If,  where  there  is 
faith,  there  is  freedom;  where  freedom,  grace;  where  grace, 
an  inheritance — then  one  who  is  a  Jew  in  the  letter  but  not 
in  spirit  is  in  slavery.  One  who  has  not  faith  has  not  liberty 
of  spirit.  Where  there  is  no  freedom,  there  is  no  grace;  where 

4  Jer.  12.8. 

5  Gal.  4.1-3. 

6  Matt.  23.10. 

7  2  Cor.  3.17. 


4 1 2  SAINT  AMBROSE 

no  grace,  no  adoption;  where  no  adoption,  no  right  of 
succession. 

Thus,  he  beholds  his  inheritance  as  though  on  sealed  tablets, 
he  does  not  possess  it,  and  he  has  not  the  right  of  choice.  How 
can  he  say  'Our  Father'8  if  he  denies  the  true  Son  of  God 
by  whom  our  adoption  is  obtained?  How  can  he  draw  up  a 
will  if  he  denies  the  death  of  the  Testator?  How  can  he 
obtain  freedom  if  he  denies  the  Blood  by  which  he  was 
redeemed?  For,  it  is  the  price  of  our  freedom,  as  Peter  says : 
'You  were  redeemed  with  the  precious  blood/9  not  of  a  lamb, 
but  of  Him  who  came  in  meekness  and  humility  like  a  lamb, 
and  freed  the  whole  world  with  the  single  offering  of  His 
body,  as  He  Himself  said:  'I  was  led  like  a  lamb  to  be 
sacrificed/10  and  John  also  says:  'Behold,  the  lamb  of  God, 
behold  the  one  who  takes  away  the  sins  of  the  world.'11 

Hence,  the  Jew  is  an  heir  in  the  letter,  not  in  the  spirit; 
he  is  like  a  child  under  guardians  and  stewards.  But  the 
Christian  who  knows  the  fullness  of  time  when  Christ  came, 
made  of  a  woman,  made  under  the  Law,  to  redeem  all  who 
were  under  the  Law,  the  Christian,  I  say,  through  the  unity 
of  faith  and  the  knowledge  of  the  Son  of  God,  rises  to  perfect 
manhood,  to  the  measure  of  the  age  of  the  fullness  of  Christ.12 

Farewell,  son,  and  love  us,  for  we  love  you. 

8  Matt.  6.9. 

9  1  Peter  1.19, 

10  Isa.  53.7. 

11  John  1.29. 

12  Cf.  Eph.  4.13. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  413 

70.  Ambrose  to  Cynegius1 

How  you  have  ennobled  yourself  by  consulting  me  on  a 
matter  you  did  not  approve,  desiring  only  to  suit  your  conduct 
to  your  father's  wishes,  so  that  you  might  not  lessen  your 
affection,  feeling  sure  that  I  would  make  no  reply  but  what 
benefited  holy  relationships. 

I  willingly  took  your  burdens  upon  myself  and  reconciled, 
I  hope,  the  niece  to  her  uncle.  I  truly  do  not  know  why  he 
wanted  you  to  become  his  son-in-law,  changing  his  status  of 
uncle  to  that  of  father-in-law.2  I  need  say  no  more  for  fear 
that  this,  too,  would  lead  to  confusion. 

Farewell,  son,  and  love  us,  because  we  also  love  you. 

71.  Ambrose  to  Eusebius1  (c.  392) 

The  secretary  of  the  prefecture,  who  got  into  trouble  by 
his  work  at  Portus,2  is  now  sailing  into  port.3  He  came  most 
opportunely,  for  as  soon  as  I  received  your  letter  I  saw  the 
prefect  and  interceded  for  him.  He  immediately  pardoned 
him  and  ordered  withdrawn  the  letter  which  he  had  dictated 
for  the  sale  of  his  property.  Even  if  the  secretary's  arrival 
had  been  delayed,  no  one  would  have  admitted  the  difficulty 
of  rebuilding  the  port  more  than  one  who  would  have 
suffered  shipwreck  there,  had  you  not  been  his  pilot.  Under 
the  conditions  he  would  barely  have  escaped  alive. 

1  Palanque  dates  this  letter  at  the  beginning  of  393,  associated  with  the 
letter  to  Paternus. 

2  Marriage  with  a  niece  was  forbidden  by  a  law  of  Constantine  in  339. 
Cf.  Cod.  Theod.  3.12.1. 


1  Eusebius  was  a  distinguished  layman  of  Bologna,  whose  son,  Faustinus, 
was  spending  some  time  in  Milan. 

2  Situated  on  the  harbor  of  Ostia,  Eusebius  was  probably  a  superinten- 
dent of  some  work  being  done  there. 

3  One  of  the  many  puns  of  Ambrose. 


414  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Little  Faustinas  is  suffering  from  a  cough,  and  he  has  come 
to  his  saintly  sister  to  be  cured,  and  come  willingly,  for  he 
has  found  that  his  stomach  ailment  is  better  cared  for  here. 
He  thinks,  too,  that  I  am  a  doctor  and  looks  to  me  for  his 
meals.  So  he  gets  his  medicine  here  twice  a  day  and  has 
begun  feeling  fairly  well,  but  when,  out  of  excessive  love, 
they  hold  off  the  doses,  his  stomach  cough  begins  worse  than 
before,  and  if  he  does  not  return  to  his  medicines  he  will 
continue  to  suffer. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  for  we  also  love  you. 


72.  Ambrose  to  Eusebius  (c.  395) 

The  two  Faustinuses1  have  returned  to  you,  the  two  little 
Ambroses2  are  staying  with  me.  In  the  father  you  have  what 
is  most  distinguished,  in  the  son  what  is  most  agreeable,  for 
you  have  the  height  of  virtue  and  you  yourself  show  the  grace 
of  humility.  I  have  what  is  midway  between  father  and 
young  son.  With  you  is  the  head  of  the  whole  house,  and  the 
uninterrupted  succession  of  a  name  handed  down;  with  me 
remains  the  frugal  mean  which  depends  upon  the  head  and 
shares  the  nature  of  what  follows.  You  have  the  one  who  is 
the  peace  of  both  of  us,  who,  when  he  is  given  me  in  turn, 
smoothes  away  all  the  concerns  of  my  soul.  You  have  the 
one  who  by  his  life  and  deeds  and  progeny  has  found  favor 
with  our  Lord.  You  have  the  one  who  amid  the  storms  of 
this  world  has  fostered  a  spiritual  dove3  to  bring  him  the 
fruits  of  peace,4  for  she  is  anointed  with  the  oil  of  chastity. 
With  you  is  one  who  built  an  altar  to  God,  whom  God 

1  Eusebius'  son  and  grandson. 

2  Ambrose  and  Ambrosia;  for  the  latter  he  wrote  his  Inst.   Virg.    (PL 
16.305-334) . 

3  A  reference  to  Ambrosia. 

4  Cf.  Gen.  8.11. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  415 

blessed  with  his  sons,  saying:  'Increase  and  multiply/5  with 
whom  He  established  the  covenant  of  His  peace  which  would 
endure  for  him  and  his  children  for  everlasting  generations. 

Yo'u  have  the  heir  of  the  divine  benediction,  a  partner  of 
grace,  a  sharer  of  righteousness.  Be  careful,  I  beg  you,  that 
this  Noe,  our  husbandman,  the  good  planter  of  a  fruitful 
vineyard,  when  he  is  inebriated  with  the  cup  of  your  love 
and  grace,  does  not  become  like  a  man  drunk  with  wine,  who 
after  indulging  too  long  in  rest,  happens  to  fall  asleep  and  is 
awakened  by  the  longing  for  our  Chem. 

Japhet  is  there,  too,  the  youngest  of  the  brothers,  who  with 
reverential  piety  covers  his  father,  whom  his  father  sees  even 
while  he  sleeps  and  never  puts  out  of  his  thoughts,  but  keeps 
always  in  his  sight  and  in  his  embrace,  and  upon  awaking 
will  know  what  his  youngest  son  has  done  for  him.  In  Latin 
his  name  signifies  'richness  of  expression,'  because  grace  is 
poured  out  upon  his  lips  and  in  his  life.  God  therefore  has 
blessed  him  because,  going  backwards,  so  to  speak,  to  Bologna, 
he  covered  his  father  with  the  pious  cloak  of  charity6  and 
showed  honor  to  piety.  Of  him  his  father  says:  'May  God 
make  Japhet  rejoice  in  the  houses  of  Chanaan.'7  For  this 
reason,  too,  in  the  story  of  this  generation  he  is  preferred  to 
his  elder  brother,  he  is  given  the  blessing  in  his  stead,  he  is 
preferred  out  of  honor  to  his  name,  he  is  ranked  above  the 
privilege  of  elder  birth  and  the  honor  due  to  nature. 

In  Latin  Chanaan  signifies  a  'name.'  Truly  is  this  Ambrose 
of  ours  a  good  name,  in  whose  houses  Japhet  may  rejoice, 
because  'A  good  name  is  better  than  a  great  abundance  of 
riches.'8  Let  him  be  blessed  and  let  his  favor  be  above  gold 
and  silver,  let  this  seed  of  Abraham  be  in  his  inheritance, 
let  every  blessing  be  upon  his  posterity  and  on  the  household 

5  Gen.  9.9. 

6  Cf.  Gen.  9.23. 

7  Gen.  9.27. 

8  Prov.  22.1. 


416  SAINT  AMBROSE 

of  the  just  man.  But  no  one  is  accursed,  all  are  blessed,  for 
blessed  is  the  fruit  of  Sara. 

The  Ambroses  greet  you,  dear  Parthenius  greets  you,  so 
does  Valentinian,  now  humbly  disposed,  greet  you,  for  in 
Hebrew  he  is  called  'Chanaan/  being,  as  it  were,  his  brother's 
servant,  yielding  to  him  and  to  his  name.  He  is  like  mighty 
Nembroth  who  had  a  double  name,  the  famous  hunter  upon 
earth,  of  whom  it  is  said:  'Even  as  Nembroth  the  great 
hunter  before  the  Lord.39  He  is  rude  by  nature  and  of  great 
bodily  strength,  and  in  his  prowess  he  surpasses  those  whose 
genius  he  cannot  match;  he  seems  to  carry  with  him  the 
Comacine  cliffs  and  to  resemble  them  in  expression,  being  a 
sort  of  bull,10  enraged  because  he  has  been  set  aside,  deprived 
of  his  paternal  title,  made  subject  to  a  man  from  Bologna, 
though  he  is  an  inhabitant  of  the  capital.  You  see,  he  knows 
not  the  charming  ways  of  infancy,  and  when  he  is  hurt  he 
shakes  off  his  nurse's  embrace. 

Farewell;  love  us,  for  we  love  you. 

73.  Ambrose  to  Faustinus,  greetings  (late  394) 

I  knew  very  well  that  you  would  lament  with  bitter  grief 
the  death  of  your  sister,  yet  not  in  such  a  way  as  to  estrange 
yourself  from  us,  but  to  come  back  to  us.  Although  mourners 
have  not  joyous  consolations,  they  are  always  necessary  ones. 
But  you  have  gone  off  to  a  mountain  retreat,  to  a  cave  amid 
the  haunts  of  beasts,  spurning  all  part  in  the  affairs  of  men 
and,  what  is  more  serious,  disregarding  even  your  own  good 
judgment. 

Did  your  sister  deserve  that  a  human  relationship  which 
gave  you  a  woman  so  remarkable  and  which  should  have 
exerted  its  influence  on  you,  should  have  but  little  privilege? 

9  Gen.  10.9. 
10  Cf.  Virgil,  Georg.  3.58. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  417 

Indeed,  when  she  was  departing  from  life  she  comforted  her- 
self with  the  consolation  that  she  was  leaving  you  as  her 
survivor  to  be  a  parent  to  your  nephews,  a  mentor  for  her 
children,  a  help  to  the  bereaved.  You  are  keeping  yourself 
from  your  nephews  and  us,  so  that  we  do  not  have  the 
enjoyment  of  that  consolation.  Her  dear  children  bid  you  not 
grieve  but  comfort  them,  so  that  when  they  see  you  they  will 
think  that  their  mother  has  not  died;  in  you  they  will  know 
her  again;  in  you  they  will  cling  to  her  presence;  in  you  they 
will  feel  that  her  life  remains  for  them. 

You  are  sad  because  she  who  was  in  good  health  for  a 
long  time  died  unexpectedly.  This  is  an  experience  which  we 
share  not  only  with  men  but  even  with  cities  and  countries.1 
As  you  left  Claterna  behind,  coming  from  Bologna,  and  then 
Bologna,  Modena,  and  Reggio,  Brescello  was  on  your  right, 
and  ahead  Piacenza  meets  you,  still  echoing  its  ancient  nobility 
in  its  name.  You  were  moved  with  pity  for  the  ruined  areas 
of  the  Apennines  to  the  left,  and  you  pondered  the  towns  of 
once-prosperous  peoples  and  parted  from  them  with  sorrowful 
thoughts.  Do  not  the  empty  remains  of  so  many  half-ruined 
cities  and  the  destruction  of  so  many  lands  set  before  your 
gaze  counsel  you  to  consider  the  death  of  one,  although  she 
is  a  holy  and  admirable  lady,  to  be  more  consoling,  since  they 
have  fallen  and  have  been  ruined  forever,  but  she,  who  has 
been  taken  from  us  for  a  time,  lives  a  better  life  beyond. 

I  think  that  she  should  not  be  mourned  but,  rather, 
followed  with  prayer.  I  believe  that  you  should  not  lament 
for  her  with  tears,  but  commend  her  soul  to  the  Lord  by 
your  prayers. 

Of  course,  you  may  say  that  she  is  saved  through  her 

1  An  extensive  imitation  of  Servius  Sulpicius'  letter  of  consolation  to 
Cicero  on  the  death  oi  Tullia,  Cicero  Epist.  ad  Fam.  4.5.  For  interesting 
remarks  on  this  letter,  see  addendum  to  commentary  in  R.  Y.  Tyrell- 
L.  C.  Purser,  Correspondence  of  M.  Tullius  Cicero,  Vol.  5  (2nd  ed., 
1915)  xc-xci,  where  the  editors  say  that  'the  language  [of  Ambrose] 
may,  perhaps,  be  inferior  to  that  of  Sulpicius,  but  the  hope  is  higher.' 


418  SAINT  AMBROSE 

merits  and  her  faith,  yet  that  you  cannot  bear  the  longing 
for  her,  no  longer  seeing  her  in  the  body,  and  this  causes  you 
terrible  grief.  Does  not  the  saying  of  the  Apostle  touch  you : 
'So  that  henceforth  we  know  no  one  according  to  the  flesh. 
And  even  though  we  have  known  Christ  according  to  the  flesh, 
yet  now  we  know  him  so  no  longer5?2  Our  body  cannot  be 
everlasting  and  enduring.  It  must  fall  that  it  may  rise;  it 
must  be  broken  apart  that  it  may  rest  and  experience  the  end 
of  sin.  Indeed,  we  have  known  many  in  the  flesh,  but  we 
know  them  now  no  longer.  We  knew  our  Lord  Jesus  Himself, 
says  the  Apostle,  according  to  the  flesh,  'and  now  we  know 
him  so  no  longer.'  For  He  had  already  laid  away  the  body's 
covering;  He  was  seen  no  more  in  the  guise  of  man;  now  He 
had  died  for  all  and  all  have  died  in  Him.  But  that  they 
may  be  made  anew  through  Him,  and  made  alive  in  spirit, 
they  live  now  not  for  themselves,  they  live  for  Christ.  Else- 
where the  same  Apostle  says:  clt  is  now  no  longer  I  that  live 
but  Christ  lives  in  me.'3 

It  is  but  just  that  before  he  knew  Christ  according  to  the 
flesh  he  already  knew  His  works,  though  not  seeing  them.  He 
studied  now  not  His  flesh  but  His  power,  and,  as  a  persecutor, 
with  hostile  animosity  overwhelmed  the  disciples  of  the 
Man,  His  followers  in  the  flesh.  Yet,  later,  he  became  the 
teacher  of  the  Gentiles  and  began  to  teach  and  rear  for  the 
preaching  of  the  Gospel  those  who  venerated  His  majesty.  In 
fact,  he  adds:  clf  any  man  is  in  Christ,  he  is  a  new  creature/4 
that  is,  one  perfect  in  Christ  is  a  new  creature,  because  one 
who  is  in  the  flesh  is  imperfect.  The  Lord  Jesus  Himself 
says:  'My  spirit  shall  not  remain  in  man  forever,  because  he 
is  flesh.'5  A  man  in  the  flesh  is  not  in  Christ,  but  if  one  is  in 
Christ  he  is  a  new  creature,  formed  in  the  newness  not  of 
nature,  but  of  grace.  The  old  things  according  to  the  flesh 

2  2  Cor.  5.16. 

3  Gal.  2.20. 

4  2  Cor.  5.17. 

5  Gen.  6.3. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN 


419 


have  passed  away,  all  have  become  new.  If  the  scribe  in- 
structed in  the  kingdom  of  heaven  knows  not  these  things,6  he 
is  like  the  householder  who  brings  from  his  treasure  new  things 
and  old,  not  old  without  new,  or  new  without  old.  So  the 
Church  says:  The  new  and  the  old  I  have  kept  for  thee.'7 
The  old  have  passed  away,  that  is,  the  hidden  mysteries  of 
the  Law  have  all  been  made  new  in  Christ. 

This  is  the  new  creature  of  whom  the  Apostle  speaks  to 
the  Galatians:  Tor  in  Christ  Jesus  neither  circumcision  is  of 
any  avail,  nor  uncircumcision,  but  a  new  creature/8  through 
which  the  flesh  now  renewed  flourishes  and,  having  borne 
the  thorns  of  inveterate  sin  in  the  past,  finds  now  the  fruit  of 
grace.  What  need  is  there  for  us  to  grieve  if  now  it  is  said  to 
the  soul:  'Thy  youth  is  renewed  like  the  eagle's'?9  Why  do 
we  lament  the  dead  when  the  reconcilation  of  the  world  with 
God  the  Father  has  already  been  made  through  the  Lord 
Jesus?10 

Having  the  blessings  of  Christ,  we  act  as  ambassadors  for 
Christ,  not  only  to  all,  but  also  to  you,  that  you  may  know 
that  His  gifts  are  irrevocable,  that  you  may  believe  what  you 
have  always  believed,  and  not  bring  your  understanding  into 
doubt  owing  to  your  exceedingly  great  grief.  For  our  Lord 
Jesus  became  sin  to  take  away  the  sin  of  the  world,11  and 
that  we  might  all  be  made  in  Him  the  justice  of  God,12  no 
longer  entangled  in  sin  but  sure  of  a  reward  for  justice. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  for  we  love  you. 

6  Matt.  13.52. 

7  Cant.  7.13. 

8  Gal.  5.6. 

9  Ps.  102.5. 

10  Cf.  2  Cor.  5.18. 

11  Cf.  John  1.29. 

12  Cf.  2  Cor.  5.21. 


420  SAINT  AMBROSE 

74.  Ambrose  to  Irenaeus,  greetings  (c.  387) 

You  have  made  a  wise  decision  to  seek  an  answer  to  the 
question  whether  there  is  some  difference  in  God's  love  of 
those  who  have  had  the  faith  since  childhood  and  of  those 
who  have  believed  only  in  the  course  of  youth  or  later  man- 
hood. Holy  Scripture  has  not  failed  to  note  this  problem,  nor 
has  it  left  the  matter  untouched.  Indeed,  the  Lord  our  God 
said  meaningfully  to  the  Prophet  Joel:  'Lament  with  me 
over  my  spouse  in  sackcloth  and  for  the  husband  of  her 
youth,'1  while  He  wept  either  for  the  synagogue  that  formerly, 
in  her  virginity,  had  been  espoused  to  the  Word  of  God,  or 
perhaps  for  a  soul  that  had  fallen  from  grace.  Her  offense 
had  led  her  into  serious  crimes  so  that  she  became  hated 
and,  having  been  cast  aside  because  of  her  stain  of  impurity 
and  the  foul  marks  of  wickedness  and  the  stains  of  unbelief, 
she  became  an  object  of  pity  and  a  person  despised,  far 
removed  from  the  grace  of  that  spouse  who  had  been  worthy 
to  hear  the  words:  el  will  espouse  thee  to  me  in  faith  and 
justice  and  mercy.'2 

There  is  good  cause  to  consider  her  an  object  of  pity  since 
she  has  lost  her  claim  to  a  reward  and  experienced  so  heavy 
a  loss  of  the  dowry  of  virtue  that  she  has  been  deprived  of 
the  spouse  of  her  virginity.  According  to  our  merits  the  Word 
of  God  either  lives  or  dies  in  us.  If  our  desires  and  works  are 
good,  the  Word  of  God  lives  and  works  in  us;  if  our  thoughts 
and  deeds  are  dark,  the  Sun  of  Justice  goes  down.3  He 
teaches  us  to  lament  for  such  a  soul.  For,  as  those  who  have 
the  bridegroom  must  rejoice  and  feast,  so  must  that  soul 
mourn  when  the  spouse  has  been  taken  away,  as  it  is  said  of 
the  Apostles  in  the  Gospel :  'for  when  the  bridegroom  shall  be 
taken  away  from  them,  then  will  they  fast  in  those  days.'4 

1  Joel  1.8. 

2  Osee  2.19,20. 

3  Cf.  Mai.  4.2. 

4  Matt.  9J5. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  42 1 

This  soul,  therefore,  formerly  experienced  joy  and  gladness, 
when  she  had  the  Virgin  Word.  She  did  not  fast,  since  those 
were  the  days  for  feasting  and  banqueting;  the  Bridegroom 
was  present,  lavishing  on  all  the  riches  of  plenty,  the  stores  of 
heavenly  food,  and  the  flow  of  wine  which  gladdens  the  hearts 
of  men.6  But,  after  she  had  lost  the  Bridegroom  through  her 
deeds,  she  was  ordered  to  do  penance  in  sackcloth  for  her 
sins  and  to  weep  for  herself  because  Christ  who  is  the  Virgin 
Word  died  and  was  crucified  for  her. 

Sometimes  a  soul  is  espoused  at  an  early  age  and  never 
bears  any  other  yoke,  but  from  the  beginning  vows  the  virginal 
flower  of  her  faith  to  Christ  and  is  united  to  Him  from  the 
first  in  mysteries  of  piety,  receiving  a  training  in  holiness  as 
the  heifer  does  the  yoke.  This  is  the  soul  of  Jewish  stock, 
from  the  race  of  ancient  patriarchs,  who,  if  she  had  kept  her 
course  of  faith  unstumbling,  would  have  been  counted  worthy 
of  great  merit,  the  virginal  spouse  of  the  Word,  as  the  woman 
who  took  hold  of  justice  and  went  to  meet  him  like  a  mother, 
and  will  receive  him  like  a  wife  married  of  a  virgin.6 

The  other,  too,  has  been  taken  from  the  Gentiles;  each  is 
spouse  of  the  one  Word,  and  this  is  a  great  mystery.  This  is 
shown  you  in  the  Book  of  Kings:7  David  had  two  wives, 
Achinaa  the  Jezrahelite,  and  Abigail  whom  he  took  later. 
The  first  was  somewhat  severe,  the  other  full  of  mercy  and 
graciousness,  a  kindly  and  generous  soul  who  saw  the  Father 
with  face  unveiled,  gazing  on  His  glory.  She  received  that 
heavenly  dew  of  the  grace  of  the  Father,  as  her  name  is 
interpreted.  What  is  the  dew  of  the  Father  but  the  Word  of 
God,  which  fills  the  hearts  of  all  with  the  waters  of  faith  and 
justice? 

Beautifully  does  the  true  David  say  to  this  soul  what  was 
said  to  Abigail:  'Blessed  be  the  Lord  God  of  Israel,  who 

5  Cf.  Ps.  103.15. 

6  Cf.  Eccli.  15.2. 

7  Cf.  1  Kings  25.39. 


422  SAINT  AMBROSE 

sent  thee  this  day  to  meet  me,  and  blessed  be  thy  customs.' 
And  again  He  says  to  her:  'Go  in  peace  into  thy  house, 
behold  now  I  have  heard  thy  voice  and  have  honored  thy 
face.58  In  the  Canticles,  too,  these  are  the  words  of  the 
bridegroom  to  his  bride:  'Show  me  thy  face  and  let  me  hear 
thy  voice.'9 

Then  she  was  sent  away,  since  she  had  another  husband 
who  was  called,  in  Hebrew,  Nabal,  which,  in  Latin,  means 
foolish,  harsh,  unkind,  ungentle,  ungrateful,  for  he  did  not 
know  how  to  show  gratitude.  Later,  when  her  husband  died, 
David  the  Prophet  took  her  as  his  wife,  since  she  was  set 
free  from  the  law  of  her  husband.  Through  this  union  is 
signified  the  mystery  of  the  Church  of  the  Gentiles  which 
would  believe,  for,  after  losing  her  husband  to  whom  she  was 
at  first  united,  she  made  her  way  to  Christ,  bringing  &  dowry 
of  piety,  of  humility,  and  of  faith,  and  enriched  with  the 
heritage  of  mercy. 

But  here  it  is  not  this  wife  who  is  deplored,  but  Achinaa 
who  was  hostile  to  her  brother,  so  that  her  brother  made 
trouble  for  her.  And  in  their  persons  it  is  said:  'Thou  hast 
made  us  a  byword  among  the  heathens,  a  shaking  of  the  head 
among  the  people.510  And  the  Devil,  finding  her  off  guard, 
tore  her  like  a  lion  and  took  away  her  beauty,  and  overturned 
her  vineyard  and  fig  tree11  where  everyone  used  to  rest,  and 
he  made  her  harvest  wither. 

God  had  pity  when  they  were  parched  and  white  with 
drought,  and  He  said  to  the  Prophet :  'Lament  with  rne  over 
my  spouse  wearing  a  sackcloth,  over  the  husband  of  her 
youth,'12  that  is  to  say,  over  the  dead  husband  of  a  soul  of 
this  sort,  or  over  the  synagogue.  In  another  place,  too,  He 

8  1  Kings  25.32,35. 

9  Cant.  2.14. 

10  Ps.  43.15. 

11  Cf.  Mich.  4.4. 

12  Joel  1.8. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  423 

shows  His  disapproval13  because  she  had  forgotten  her  pro- 
mise, forgotten  her  love,  was  unmindful  of  grace,  strayed 
from  obedience,  and  had  lost  her  former  affection  as  a  wife. 
He  reproves  her  with  His  words,  recalling  to  her  mind  and 
repeating  to  her  her  tenderness,  her  expressions  of  devotion: 
'Did  you  not  call  me  one  of  your  household,  the  parent  and 
pattern  of  your  virginity?3 

For  that  soul  the  Virgin  Word  is  dead  when  the  Word  of 
God  has  died  through  unbelief.  He  suffers  grief,  He  appoints 
an  intercessor,  so  that  she  will  be  called  to  penance  whereby 
she  may  earn  compassion.  She  who  is  prudent  in  under- 
standing and  beautiful  to  look  upon,  like  Abigail,  was  won  for 
Him  in  battle.  Her  adversaries  were  conquered,  and  her 
husband,  who  in  the  midst  of  spiritual  wickedness  struggled 
and  fought  so  as  not  to  lose  his  beautiful  wife,  is  dead.  So, 
like  a  victorious  and  loving  spouse,  he  gives  her  sweetness 
and  grace,  cleansing  from  her  all  that  might  obscure  her 
beauty.  He  takes  off  the  garments  of  her  captivity,  laying 
aside  even  the  hair  of  her  head,  that  is,  the  curls  of  sin  which 
seern  to  be  superfluous  parts  of  our  person,  because  'for  a 
man  to  wear  his  hair  long  is  degrading.'14  Thus,  in  oneness 
of  faith  she  may  strive  to  reach  to  perfect  manhood,  to  the 
mature  measure  of  the  fullness  of  Christ,15  and,  laying  aside 
all  the  troubles  of  the  soul,  be  grounded  in  love,  and  may  grow 
up  in  the  Lord  Jesus,  bringing  growth  to  the  whole  body. 

This  is  the  soul  which  the  Law  shows  you  in  the  guise  of  a 
good  woman,  for  if  you  see  her  among  the  prizes  of  war  and 
desire  to  have  her  as  your  wife:  Thou  shalt  bring  her/  he 
says,  'into  thy  house.'16  And  in  order  that  you  may  give  her 
the  whole  interior  of  your  house,  the  possession  of  all  your 
body,  you  may  take  away  her  raiment,  you  may  cut  off  her 
transgressions,  and  with  a  razor  which  is  not  too  sharp,  lest 

13  Cf.  Osee  4.6. 

14  1  Cor.  11.14. 

15  Cf.  Eph.  4.13. 

16  Deut.  21.12. 


424  SAINT  AMBROSE 

it  come  to  evil,  you  may  pare  off  the  slough  of  your  passion 
and  your  idle  feelings.  Therefore,  'You  will  shave  her  head,' 
he  says,  'so  that  the  eyes  of  the  wise  man,  which  are  in  his 
head,  will  suffer  no  harm.517  'And  she  will  sit/  he  says, 
'thirty  days  in  thy  house,'18  lamenting  the  sins  of  her 
generation,  the  lies  of  her  wicked  father,  the  Devil,  who 
wishes  to  gather  what  he  has  not  sown.19  Then,  being 
cleansed  by  the  purification  of  this  mystical  number,  she 
may  get  possession  of  the  keys  of  marriage. 

Very  aptly  he  says:  'And  after  that  thou  shalt  go  into  her,' 
to  enter  completely  into  your  soul,  and  recollect  yourself 
within  her,  and  dwell  in  her,  and  stay  with  her,  letting  all 
your  life  be  in  her.  So  you  will  be  not  in  the  flesh  but  in  the 
spirit,  and  endeavor  to  bring  her  to  share  your  life,  knowing 
she  will  give  you  of  her  goods.  Enjoying  her  favor,  may  you 
say:  'And  I  was  a  witty  child  and  had  received  a  good  soul/20 
And  she  will  answer:  'I  will  take  you,  and  bring  you  into  my 
mother's  house,  into  the  chamber  of  her  that  bore  me.'  The 
good  mother  of  souls  is  that  Jerusalem  which  is  in  heaven. 

She  will  be  your  wife  and,  finding  you,  she  will  kiss  you. 
And  if  afterwards  she  please  you  not,21  because  she  chastises 
her  body  and  brings  it  into  subjection,  you  will  not  allow  her 
to  be  a  slave,  that  is,  to  the  pleasures  of  the  body,  nor  will 
you  make  her  a  subject  of  the  flesh,  but  let  her  remain  free. 
You  will  not  let  her  go,  for  that  is  to  sell  her;  you  will  not 
despise  her,  but  you  will  allow  her  to  serve  her  God  in  purity 
of  faith  and  in  the  sobriety  of  good  works. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 


17  Eccle.  2.14, 

18  Deut.  21.13. 

19  Cf.  Jer.  17.11. 

20  Cant.  3.4. 

21  Cf.  Deut.  21.14. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  425 

75.  Ambrose  to  Irenaeus,  greetings   (c.  387 )l 

'The  partridge  has  spoken,  she  has  fostered  a  brood  which 
is  not  hers.'2  I  should  like  to  borrow  the  beginning  of  this 
letter  from  the  close  of  my  last.  It  has  been  frequently  dis- 
cussed, so,  in  order  that  we  may  be  able  to  solve  it,  let  us 
consider  what  natural  history  tells  us  regarding  the  nature  of 
this  bird.3  It  is  the  part  of  no  small  wisdom  to  ponder  this, 
for  Solomon  understood  the  nature  of  animals  and  discoursed 
on  flocks,  birds,  reptiles,  and  fish.4 

This  bird  is  said  to  be  full  of  craft,  fraud,  and  guile,  expert 
in  deceiving  a  fowler,  and  experienced  in  turning  him  aside 
from  her  own  brood,  since  she  omits  no  trial  of  any  action  to 
draw  off  the  hunter  from  her  nest  and  hiding  place.  Indeed, 
if  she  sees  him  approach,  she  sports  about  long  enough  to 
give  the  young  the  signal  and  the  opportunity  of  getting 
away.  When  she  knows  they  are  gone,  she,  too,  takes  herself 
off,  leaving  her  enemy  tricked  by  her  crafty  wiles.5 

It  is  also  said  that  she  is  a  promiscuous  bird,  and  the  males 
rush  on  the  females  with  great  force  and  burn  with  unre- 
strained desires.  Therefore  it  is  thought  suitable  to  compare 
this  unclean,  evil-minded,  deceptive  animal  to  the  adversary 
and  deceitful  circumventor  of  the  human  race,  the  author 
of  uncleanness.6 


1  Waghorn  has  been  followed  here  in  assigning  this  letter  to  Irenaeus 
rather  than  to  Sabinus,  as  does  Palanque.  Although  the  opening  words 
do  follow  the  concluding  text  of  Letter  27,  to  Sabinus,  the  testimony 
of  the  mss.,  Ambrose's  tone  of  instruction  to  a  disciple,  and  the  pre- 
sence in  Letter  74  of  the  Scripture  passage  from  Jeremias  from  which 
this  letter  stems— all  of  these  arguments  have  been  carefully  weighed 
by  Waghorn  (7-9) . 

2  Jer.  17.11. 

3  Several    ancient    authors,    e.g.,    Aristotle    Hist.    Anim.    9.8,613B-614A, 
describe  the  cleverness  of  the  partridge  with  hunters. 

4  Cf.  3  Kings  4.33. 

5  Cf.  Virgil,  Aen.  11.716. 

6  The  Benedictine  editors  give  the  number  3  to  this  and  the  following 
paragraph. 


426  SAINT  AMBROSE 

The  partridge,  which  derives  its  name  from  perdition/  is 
called  Satan;  in  Latin,  the  Devil.  He  spoke  first  in^Eve,8  he 
spoke  in  Cain,  he  spoke  in  Pharao,9  in  Dathan,  Abiron,  and 
Core.10  He  spoke  in  the  Jews  when  they  asked  that  gods  be 
made  for  them  while  Moses  was  receiving  the  Law.  He 
spoke  again  when  they  said  of  the  Saviour:  'Let  him  be 
crucified,  let  him  be  crucified5;  and  'His  blood  be  on  us  and 
on  our  children.'11  He  spoke  when  they  wanted  Him  to  be 
made  king  so  that  they  might  not  walk  with  the  Lord  God 
•  their  king.12  He  spoke  in  every  vain  and  wicked  man. 

With  these  words  he  has  fostered  a  people  who  are  not  his 
creation,  for  God  made  man  to  His  own  image  and  likeness,13 
and  the  Devil  formed  a  fellowship  with  man  by  the  cunning 
of  his  words.  He  has  fostered  the  people  of  the  Gentiles, 
acquiring  riches  without  judgment.  Therefore  in  the  proverb 
it  is  said  of  the  greedy  rich  man  that  the  partridge  fostered 
riches  without  judgment.  But  my  Jesus,  like  a  good  judge, 
does  all  with  judgment,  for  He  comes,  as  it  is  written,  saying: 
CI  speak  justice  and  the  judgment  of  salvation.'14 

Therefore,  He  has  robbed  that  partridge,  the  Devil,  of 
favor;  He  has  taken  from  him  the  riches  of  the  multitude 
which  evil  fostered;  He  has  called  back  the  souls  of  the 
Gentiles  from  error  and  the  hearts  of  nations  which  were  going 
astray.  And  because  He  knew  that  they  were  deceived  by 
the  words  of  the  Devil,  He  Himself,  to  loosen  the  chains  and 
bonds  of  long-standing  error,  spoke  first  in  Abel,  whose  voice 
of  blood  cried  out.15  He  spoke  in  Moses  to  whom  He  said: 

7  Ambrose  here  draws  a   false  etymology   for   the   word   perdix    from 

perdo;  the  latter  comes  from  per  and  do. 
S  Cf.  Gen.  3.4,5- 
9  Cf.  Exod.  5.2. 

10  Cf.  Num.  16.2. 

11  Matt.  27.23,25. 

12  Cf.  1  Kings  8.5. 

13  Cf.  Gen.  1.27. 

14  Isa.  63.1, 

15  Cf.  Gen.  4.10. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN 


427 


'Why  criest  thou  to  me?'16  He  spoke  in  Josue  son  of  Nun.17 
He  spoke  in  David,  who  said:  'I  cried  to  thee;  save  me.518 
He  spoke  in  all  the  Prophets.  So  He  says  to  Isaias:  'Cry';  and 
he  said:  'What  shall  I  cry?'19  He  spoke  in  Solomon,  calling 
to  him  with  a  mighty  prophecy  and  wisdom:  'Come,  eat  my 
bread,  and  drink  the  wine  which  I  have  mingled  for  you.'20 
He  spoke  in  His  own  body  like  the  beetle  in  the  wood.21  He 
spoke  to  undo  the  Devil  and  overthrow  him,  saying:  'My 
God,  my  God,  why  hast  thou  forsaken  me?'22  He  spoke  to 
strip  him  of  his  spoil  when  He  said  to  the  thief:  'Amen, 
Amen,  I  say  to  thee,  this  day  thou  shalt  be  with  me  in 
paradise.'23  Thus,  when  Jesus  spoke,  that  partridge  was  aban- 
doned by  his  brood  in  the  midst  of  his  days. 

Some  persons  have  thought  they  should  adopt  that  custom 
of  the  partridge  whereby  she  takes  another's  eggs,  warms  them 
with  her  body,  and  tries  by  this  false  means  to  get  the  off- 
spring of  others.  But  (as  they  say  to  deceive  the  wary,  for 
even  birds  have  certain  tricks)  when  [the  true  mother]  notices 
either  that  the  eggs  have  been  seized,  or  the  nest  entered,  or 
the  young  harassed,  deceived  by  false  pretenses  or  deceptive 
appearances,  although  she  is  the  weaker  one,  she  clothes  and 
arms  herself  with  cunning.  Then,  when  all  the  labor  expended 
on  food  has  exhausted  the  one  who  is  rearing  them,  when 
the  chicks  begin  to  grow,  she  [the  true  mother]  utters  a  cry 
and  with  a  sort  of  trumpet  of  love  calls  her  brood  to  her. 
They,  roused  with  certain  natural  feelings,  recognize  their 
parent  and  abandon  her  who  had  played  them  false.  So, 
when  the  one  wishes  to  foster  those  who  are  not  her  brood, 
she  loses  those  whom  she  thought  she  would  feed. 

16  Exod.  14.15. 

17  Cf.  Josue  1.1. 

18  Ps.  118.146. 

19  Isa.  40.6, 

20  Prov.  9.5. 

21  Cf.  Hab.  2.11. 

22  Matt.  27.46. 

23  Luke  23.43. 


428  SAINT  AMBROSE 

Not  without  profit  has  Jesus  spoken,  since  the  people  of  the 
world,  deceived  by  the  words  of  the  partridge,  by  his  charms, 
skill,  and  appearance,  had  strayed  from  their  origin,  follow- 
ing deceitful  ways.24  Yet,  called  back  by  the  words  of  their 
true  parent,  they  will  abandon  the  deceiver  and  desert  his 
fraudulent  practice  in  the  midst  of  his  days,  that  is,  before 
the  end  of  the  world,  whither  our  Lord  is  drawing  us, 
calling  us  to  eternal  life.  Now,  dead  to  the  world,  we  live 
to  God.25 

As  the  partridge  will  be  utterly  abandoned  by  her  false 
children,  then  will  the  foolish  man  be  saved  whom  God  chose, 
and  confounded  the  wise,  for  God  chooses  the  foolish  things 
of  the  world.  So,  if  anyone  seems  to  be  wise  in  this  world,  let 
him  become  foolish,  that  he  may  be  wise.26 

Farewell,  son,  and  love  us  as  you  do,  since  we  love  you. 


76*  Ambrose  to  Irenaeus,  greetings  (c.  387) 

In  our  last  letter  we  wrote  that  we  should  set  our  soul  free 
from  its  enemies  and  form  with  it  a  bond  of  unbreakable 
living.  And  since  this  discourse  caused  us  to  use  an  example 
from  Deuteronomy1  where  it  treats  of  the  man  who  had  two 
wives,  the  one  lovable,  the  other  hateful,  you  seem  rightly 
disturbed  lest  someone  think  he  has  received  two  souls,  for 
this  cannot  be. 

Indeed,  you  know  very  well  that  sometimes,  when  Scripture 
uses  an  allegory,  it  may  refer  at  one  time  to  the  type  of  the 
synagogue,  and  at  another  to  the  type  of  the  Church;  some- 

24  Cf.  Virgil,  Aeneid  11.716. 

25  Cf.  Rom.  6.8. 

26  Cf.  1  Cor.  1.27. 


1  Cf.  DeuL  21.16. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  429 

times  to  the  soul,  at  another  time  to  the  mystery  of  the  Word, 
and  at  other  times  to  different  types  and  kinds  of  souls.  He 
who  judges  by  the  spirit  makes  this  distinction.  Thus,  in  the 
following  chapter  of  the  Law,  I  think  that  not  two  souls  but 
different  qualities  of  the  one  soul  are  meant.  For,  that  type 
of  soul  is  lovable  which  desires  pleasures,  flees  hardships,  shies 
away  from  penance,  and  heeds  not  the  judgment  of  God. 
Indeed,  the  lovable  one,  because  she  seems  sweet  and  pleasing 
on  occasion,  does  not  influence  the  heart  but  merely  gives 
pleasure.  The  other  is  more  serious,  for  she  is  consumed  with 
zeal  for  God,  and  like  an  earnest  wife  would  not  wish  to 
prostitute  her  partner;  she  makes  no  allowances  for  her  body, 
does  not  permit  or  grant  it  any  indulgence,  gives  no  rein  to 
pleasure  and  delight,  flees  the  hiding  places  of  shameful  deeds, 
engages  in  hard  labor  and  dire  dangers. 

If,  in  these  circumstances,  each  bears  him  a  child,  he  will 
be  unable  in  establishing  his  will,  he  says,  to  show  preference 
to  the  eldest  son  of  the  lovable  wife  in  place  of  the  eldest  son 
of  the  hateful  wife,  since  he  knows  the  son  of  the  hateful  one 
is  the  eldest.  In  this  I  think  it  is  not  meant  to  typify  simply  a 
case  of  preference  between  the  two  eldest  as  much  as  to 
express  the  fact  that  the  son  of  the  hated  one  has  the  rights 
of  the  eldest.  For,  the  eldest  is  the  first-born,  and  the  saints 
are  the  first-born,  because  'every  male  that  opens  the  womb 
shall  be  called  holy  to  the  Lord.'2  Yet,  not  every  first-born  is 
holy,  for  Esau  was  not  holy  although  he  was  the  first-born. 

But  the  saints  are  the  first-born,  for  you  have  in  Numbers : 
*Lo,  I  have  taken  the  Levites  from  the  midst  of  the  children 
of  Israel  in  place  of  every  first-born  who  opens  the  womb 
among  the  children  of  Israel.  Every  first-born  of  Israel  is 
mine  since  the  day  when  I  struck  every  first-born  of  Egypt.53 
Accordingly,  He  receives  the  Levites  instead  of  the  first-born, 

2  Exod.  13.2;  Luke  2.23. 

3  Num.  3.12,13. 


430  SAINT  AMBROSE 

just  as  He  does  the  saints.  We  know  from  the  Epistle  to  the 
Hebrews  that  the  saints  are  first-born,  for  there  you  have: 
'But  you  have  come  to  Mount  Sion,  and  to  the  city  of 
Jerusalem,  and  to  the  company  of  ten  thousands  of  angels 
and  to  the  church  of  the  first-born.'4  Thus,  as  the  first-born 
of  the  Church  are  the  saints,  so  also  are  the  Levites,  since 
they  also  are  first-born.  They  are  not  holy  through  their 
order  of  birth,  but  by  reason  of  their  duty  of  holiness.  For 
Levi  was  the  third  son  of  Lia,  not  the  first.5 

One  who  is  sanctified  opens  the  womb.  What  womb?  Hear 
the  words;  'The  wicked  have  departed  from  the  womb.'6  In 
fact,  you  know  that  the  first-born  is  one  who  opens  the  womb ; 
understand  the  womb  of  the  good  mother  from  whom  the  holy 
do  not  depart,  but  sinners  do.  But  the  Levites  are  taken  from 
the  midst  of  Israel,  for  they  have  nothing  in  common  with 
the  people  whose  worldly  first-born  are  destroyed.  The 
first-born  of  the  world  are  of  another  mother,  from  whose 
womb  Paul  was  separated  when  he  was  called  to  the  grace 
of  God.7  Thus  separated  from  the  midst  of  the  people,  he 
received  the  Word,  which  is  in  the  midst  of  our  heart.  So  it 
is  said :  'But  in  the  midst  of  you  there  stands  one  whom  you 
do  not  see.'8 

That  was  not  a  purposeless  digression  which  we  made 
from  one  Law  to  another  in  order  to  demonstrate  that  the 
first-born  is  not  the  son  of  the  lovable  one,  that  is,  of  relaxa- 
tion and  pleasure,  although  the  words  of  the  chapter  express 
this  when  Scripture  says:  cHe  will  be  unable  to  prefer  the 
eldest  son  of  the  loving  wife  since  he  knows  the  son  of  the 
hateful  one  is  the  eldest/9  He  is  truly  the  eldest  who  is  the 
holy  offspring  of  a  holy  mother,  like  the  true  mother  from 
whose  womb  true  sons  do  not  depart,  but  sinners  do.  So,  he 

4  Heb.  12.22,23. 

5  Cf.  Gen.  29.34. 

6  Ps.  57.4. 

7  Cf.  Gal.  1.15. 

8  John  1.26. 

9  Deut.  21.17. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  431 

who  Is  son  not  of  a  true  mother  is  not  true  eldest,  but  like  an 
eldest  son  he  is  helped  by  riches  so  that  he  will  not  be  in 
need;  he  is  not  honored  that  he  may  be  rich.  The  other  is 
given  twice  as  much  from  all  so  that  he  will  abound.  For 
this  reason,  you  have  in  Genesis  the  patriarchs  each  given  two 
robes  by  their  brother  Joseph  when  they  were  sent  back  to 
their  father,  to  signify  to  the  father  that  Joseph  was  found 
whom  the  father  believed  to  be  dead. 

The  first-born,  therefore,  received  the  right  of  inheritance 
when  Scripture  said:  This  is  the  beginning  of  his  children, 
and  to  him  are  due  the  first  birthrights/10  The  first-born 
saints  are  of  the  first-born  Son  of  God;  from  that  beginning, 
because  He  is  the  beginning  and  the  end,11  the  saint  takes 
his  beginning;  the  son  to  whom  is  due  the  privilege  of  the 
first-fruits  takes  his  beginning  according  to  the  saying  of 
Abraham:  'Cast  out  the  slave-girl  with  her  son;  for  the  son 
of  this  slave-girl  shall  not  be  heir  with  my  son  Isaac.312 

This  is  meant  by  divine  Revelation  to  refer  more  to  the 
inheriting  of  virtues  than  of  money,  when  the  Lord  says: 
'Heed  all  that  Sara  says  to  you;  for  through  Isaac  shall  your 
descendants  be  called.513  What  other  thing  was  there  in 
Isaac  which  ennobled  his  father  if  not  the  inheriting  of 
sanctity?  Indeed,  he  put  the  son  of  the  slave-girl  over  nations, 
handing  over,  as  it  were,  the  full  amount  of  his  patrimony. 
But  he  gave  double  the  amount  to  the  son  of  Sara,  on  whom 
were  conferred  not  only  temporal  but  heavenly  and  ever- 
lasting blessings. 

Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  we  love  you. 

10  ibid. 

11  Cf.  Apoc.  1.8. 

12  Gen.  21.10. 

13  Gen.  21.12. 


43  2  SAINT  AMBROSE 

77.  Ambrose  to  Irenaeus,  greetings1 

You  asked  me  why  the  Lord  God  does  not  now  rain  down 
manna  as  He  did  on  our  fathers'  people.  If  you  reflect,  you 
will  realize  that  He  does,  even  daily,  rain  down  manna  from 
heaven  upon  His  servants.  In  fact,  a  corporeal  manna  is 
found  today  in  many  places,  but  it  is  not  now  a  matter  of 
such  great  wonder,  because  that  which  is  perfect  has  come.2 
That  which  is  perfect  is  the  Bread  from  heaven,  the  Body 
from  a  virgin,  of  which  the  Gospel  tells  us  with  sufficiency. 
How  much  more  excellent  this  is  than  what  went  before! 
Those  who  ate  that  manna,  or  bread,  are  dead,  but  he  who 
eats  this  Bread  will  live  forever,3 

But  there  is  also  a  spiritual  manna,  the  dew  of  spiritual 
wisdom,  which  is  shed  from  heaven  upon  those  who  are 
resourceful  and  in  search  of  it.  This  waters  the  minds  of  the 
pious  and  puts  sweetness  into  their  mouths.  Whoever  ex- 
periences this  downpour  of  divine  Wisdom  is  delighted,  and, 
needing  no  other  food,  lives  not  on  bread  alone  but  on  every 
word  of  God.4  One  who  is  more  diligent  seeks  that  which  is 
sweeter  than  honey.  God's  servant  says  to  him:  'This  is  the 
bread  which  God  gave  you  to  eat.'  Hear  what  that  bread  is : 
The  word,5  he  says,  'which  God  hath  commanded/5  This 
food,  the  command  of  God,  nourishes  the  soul  of  the  wise 
man,  illumining  and  sweetening,  shining  with  the  gleam  of 
truth,  blending,  as  with  honeycomb,  the  sweetness  of  many 
virtues  and  the  word  of  Wisdom,  for  'Well  ordered  words 
are  as  a  honeycomb/6  as  it  is  written  in  Proverbs. 

Now,  hear  why  it  was  small :  because  the  grain  of  mustard 
seed  which  is  compared  to  the  kingdom  of  heaven7  is  very 

1  Undated. 

2  Cf.  1  Cor.  13.10. 

3  Cf.  John  6.5. 

4  Cf.  Matt.  4.4. 

5  Exod.  16.15,16. 

6  Prov.  16.24. 

7  Cf.  Luke  13.19. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN  433 

small,  and  faith,  which  is  like  a  grain  of  mustard  seed,  can 
move  mountains  and  cast  them  into  the  sea.8  Again,  'The 
kingdom  of  heaven  is  like  leaven,  which  a  woman  took  and 
buried  in  three  measures  of  flour,  until  all  of  it  was  leavened.'9 
Likewise,  Moses  ground  the  head  of  the  golden  calf  into 
powder  and  strewed  it  in  the  water  and  gave  it  to  the  people 
to  drink,10  for  their  heart  had  been  fattened  with  the  great 
mass  of  wickedness,  and  he  did  this  so  that  it  might  be 
softened  and  refined  by  faith.  Lastly,  the  woman  who  grinds 
well  will  be  taken,  but  she  who  grinds  ill  will  be  left. 

Do  you,  therefore,  grind  your  faith  so  that  you  may  be 
like  the  soul  which  excites  in  itself  the  love  of  Christ,  which 
the  powers  of  heaven  admire  as  it  mounts  up,  that  it  may 
rise  easily  and  soar  above  this  world  with  joy  and  gladness. 
Like  the  vine,  put  forth  branches,  and  like  srnoke,  rise  on 
high,  shedding  the  odor  of  a  holy  resurrection  and  the  sweet- 
ness of  faith,  as  you  have  it  written:  'Who  is  she  that  goeth 
up  by  the  desert  like  a  branch  of  the  vine  burning  with  smoke, 
fragrant  with  myrrh  and  frankincense,  and  with  all  the 
powders  of  the  perfumer?511 

Very  aptly  has  the  sacred  writer  described  its  refined  nature, 
comparing  it  with  powder  or  perfume,  for  we  read  in  Exodus 
that  thyme,  a  prophetic  incense,  was  very  refined  and  com- 
pounded of  many  things,  for  it  was  the  prayer  of  the  saints. 
Thus,  it  may  be  directed  into  the  sight  of  the  Lord,  as  David 
says:  'Let  my  prayer  arise  like  incense  unto  thee.'12  And  in 
the  Greek  also  says  the  same.13  And  in  the  Apocalypse  of 
John  we  read  that  'An  angel  stood  before  the  altar,  having  a 
golden  censer,  and  there  was  given  to  him  much  incense, 
from  the  prayers  of  all  the  saints.  And,'  he  says,  'the  incense, 

8  Cf.  Luke  17.6. 

9  Luke  13.21. 

10  Cf.  Exod.  32.20. 

11  Cant.  3.6. 

12  Ps.  140.2. 

13  Ambrose  here  quotes  the  passage  in  Greek, 


434  SAINT  AMBROSE 

the  smoke  of  the  prayers  of  the  saints,  went  from  the  hand  of 
the  angel  before  the  sight  of  God.'14 

Small,  too,  are  the  navel  and  belly  of  the  soul  which 
ascends  to  Christ.  Therefore,  it  is  praised  in  the  words  of  the 
spouse  who  says:  Thy  navel  is  like  a  round  bowl  never 
wanting  wine,  thy  belly  is  like  a  heap  of  tiny  wheat  among 
lilies.515  It  is  polished  by  all  kinds  of  learning  and  it  is  a 
spiritual  draught  never  failing  in  fullness  and  in  the  knowl- 
edge of  heavenly  secrets.  The  belly  of  the  soul  is  mystic,-  like 
the  navel,  and  it  receives  not  only  strong  food  to  strengthen 
hearts,  but  sweet  and  fragrant  food  by  which  it  is  delighted. 
Perhaps  Moses  meant  that  this  sacrilege16  needs  to  be  atoned 
for  by  many  and  pious  prayers. 

In  the  Book  of  Kings,  also,  when  the  Lord  revealed  Him- 
self to  holy  Elias,  the  whistling  of  a  gentle  breeze  first  came 
and  then  the  Lord  revealed  Himself  to  him.17  Thus  we  may 
learn  that  bodily  things  are  fat  and  gross,  spiritual  things  are 
tender  and  fine  and  cannot  be  perceived  with  the  eye.  The 
Spirit  of  Wisdom  is  described  in  the  Book  of  Wisdom  as 
subtle  and  lively,18  because  in  her  is  the  spirit  of  understand- 
ing, holy,  one,  manifold,  subtle,  lively;  and  she  grinds  her 
words  before  speaking  so  that  she  may  not  offend  in  any 
mode  or  meaning.  Finally,  it  will  be  said  to  Babylon  when 
she  is  about  to  be  destroyed:  'And  sound  of  millstone  will 
not  be  heard  in  thee  any  more.519 

This  manna,  therefore,  was  fine  and  it  was  gathered  each 
day,  not  kept  for  the  day  following,  because  what  wisdom 
finds  in  a  moment  is  more  pleasing,  nor  is  that  more  admirable 
for  being  found  in  leisure  time  than  what  is  struck  at  once 
from  the  spark  of  genius.  It  may  be  that  future  mysteries  are 
revealed :  the  manna  kept  until  sunrise  is  unfit  to  be  eaten — 

14  Apoc.  8.2-4. 

15  Cant.  7.2. 

16  I.  e.,  the  making  and  adoring  of  the  golden  calf. 

17  CL  3  Kings  19.21. 

18  Cf.  Wisd.  7.22. 

19  Apoc.  18.22. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN 


435 


that  is,  it  had  grace  only  until  the  coming  of  Christ.  When 
the  Sun  of  Justice  arose,  arfd  the  more  resplendent  sacraments 
of  Christ's  Body  and  JEJtood  gleamed,  lesser  things  came  to  an 
end  and  the  people  were  to  take  that  which  is  more  perfect. 
Farewell,  and  love  us,  because  we  also  love  you. 


78.  Ambrose  to  Irenaeus,  greetings1 

As  if  you  were  my  son,  you  have  referred  to  me  the 
question  others  have  asked  of  you,  why  the  Law  was  so  severe 
in  pronouncing  unclean  those  persons  who  wear  garments  of 
the  other  sex,  whether  men  or  women,  for  it  is  written:  *Let 
not  men's  apparel  cover  a  woman,  neither  shall  a  man  be 
clothed  with  a  woman's  garment,  for  he  that  doeth  these 
things  is  abominable  before  God.'2 

If  you  investigate  the  matter  well,  what  nature  herself 
abhors  must  be  unsuitable,  for  why  do  you  want  to  seem  not 
a  man  when  you  were  born  one?  Why  do  you  assume  an 
appearance  not  yours?  Why  play  the  woman,  or  you,  woman, 
the  man?  Nature  clothes  each  sex  in  its  proper  raiment. 
Moreover,  in  men  and  women  there  are  different  customs, 
different  complexion,  different  gestures,  gait,  and  strength, 
different  qualities  of  voice. 

In  the  animals  of  the  rest  of  creation,  too,  the  form, 
strength,  and  roar  of  the  lion  and  lioness,  of  bull  and  heifer, 
are  different.  Among  deer,  also,  the  stag  and  hind  differ  as 
much  in  sex  as  in  appearance,  so  that  one  can  distinguish 
them  from  a  distance.  Between  birds  and  men  there  is  an 
even  closer  comparison  regarding  their  clothing,  for  their 
natural  covering  distinguishes  the  sex  in  them.  The  peacock 
is  very  beautiful,  but  his  mate  does  not  have  feathers  so 

1  Undated. 

2  Deut.  22.5, 


436  SAINT  AMBROSE 

variegated  in  color.  Pheasants  also  have  different  colors  to 
mark  the  distinction  of  sex.  The  same  is  true  of  chickens. 
How  shrill  is  the  cock's  crow  night  after  night  performing  its 
appointed  task  of  rousing  us  and  crowing!3  They  do  not 
change  their  appearance.  Why  do  we  want  to  change  ours? 
The  custom  prevailed  in  Greece  for  women  to  wear  men's 
tunics  because  they  were  shorter.  Let  it  be  their  custom  to 
appear  to  imitate  the  nature  of  the  better  sex,  but  why  should 
men  want  to  assume  the  appearance  of  the  inferior^  sex?4  A 
falsehood  in  words  is  degrading,  and  so  is  it  also  in  dress. 
That  is  why  in  heathen  temples  where  falsification  of  faith 
abides,  there  is  also  falsification  of  nature.  There  it  is  con- 
sidered holy  for  men  to  assume  women's  clothing  and  female 
gestures.  For  this  reason  the  Law  declares  that  every  man 
who  puts  on  a  woman's  garment  is  an  abomination  to  the 

Lord. 

I  think  it  refers  not  so  much  to  clothing  as  to  manners  and 
to  our  habits  and  actions,  since  one  act  is  becoming  to  a 
man,  another  to  a  woman.  Therefore,  the  Apostle,  as  the 
interpreter  of  the  Law,  says:  'Let  your  women  keep  silence 
in  the  churches,  for  it  is  not  permitted  them  to  speak,  but  to 
be  submissive,  as  the  Law  says.  But  if  they  wish  to  learn 
anything  let  them  ask  their  husbands  at  home.'5  And  to 
Timothy  he  says:  'Let  a  woman  learn  in  silence  with  all 
submission.  For  I  do  not  allow  a  woman  to  teach,  or  to 
exercise  authority  over  men.'6 

How  unsightly  it  is  for  a  man  to  act  like  a  woman!  Let 

'3  Cf.  Ambrose's  Hymn  at  Matins  (Hymnus  I,  PL  17.1409)  ;  translated  by 
W.  J.  Copeland  and  others,  in  Dom  Matthew  Britt,  O.S.B.,  The  Hymns 
of  the  Breviary  and  Missal  (New  York  1948)  21. 

4  Many  early  Councils  forbade  women  to  wear  men's  clothing  and  men 
to  wear  women's.  For  an  example  of  the  first  prohibition,  cf.  Summa 
Gangrensis  Concilii,  Cap.  13:  'Ne  mulieres  virilem  habitum  usurpent,' 
Summa  Conciliorum  (Venice  1781)  75. 

5  1  Cor.  14.34,35. 

6  I  Tim.  2.11,12. 


LETTERS  TO  LAYMEN 


437 


those  who  curl  their  hair  like  women  also  conceive  and  bear 
children.  The  one  sex  is  veiled;  the  other  engages  in  war. 
There  is  an  excuse  for  those  who  follow  their  native  customs, 
barbarous  as  they  are,  the  Persians,  the  Goths,  the  Armenians. 
But  nature  is  greater  than  one's  native  land. 

What  shall  we  say  of  those  who  consider  it  a  sign  of 
luxury  to  have  in  their  service  slaves  wearing  curls  and  orna- 
ments, while  they  themselves  have  long  beards  and  the  slaves 
have  streaming  hair?  It  is  to  be  expected  that  chastity  will  be 
lost  where  the  distinction  of  the  sexes  is  not  observed,  and 
where  nature  lays  down  definite  instruction,  as  the  Apostle 
says:  'Does  it  become  a  woman  to  pray  to  God  uncovered? 
Does  not  nature  itself  teach  you  that  for  a  man  to  wear  his 
hair  long  is  degrading;  but  for  a  woman